The Good Silverware

Dearest Guest,

I want to make you feel welcome and valued and infinitely worthy while you’re here, so I’ve put out the “good silverware.” My finest, as it were, so that you might linger for a time and make yourself at home. Translation: I shoved an exceedingly large quantity of Shrek bowls, Pizza Hut cups and all that is suggestive of plastic-type utensils away in a cupboard so that you wouldn’t think ill of me and tell all your friends I couldn’t string two coherent sentences together to save herself.

www.melindawentzel.comEggs, 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).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comRomance for Dummies

My husband is a hopeless romantic. Albeit an accidental one. Of course, he’s always done the stuff that hopeless romantics do. He sends me roses—just because. He writes me poetry and remembers our anniversary each November. He surprises me on my birthday, without fail and bestows upon me sinful quantities of chocolate on Valentine’s Day—knowing full well that I’d do almost anything for a slab of milk chocolate almond bark. And though I love him dearly for doing so, those are not the things I find especially romantic—never mind what the world at large may opine.

No doubt, he’d be stunned by this news, and perhaps disappointed to think he’d been missing the mark all these years. But he hasn’t been missing the mark. He’s simply oblivious as to why I find him wholly irresistible. Indeed, he’s clueless when it comes to recognizing what he does so completely right. Hence, the ACCIDENTAL component of the hopeless romantic equation.

That said, he unwittingly seizes the ordinary moments of life and somehow makes them special, which, to me, is deemed slightly wonderful and oh-so-romantic. More specifically, he leaves endearing, little notes everywhere with nary a holiday in sight. I stumble upon them throughout my day—under my pillow, in the kitchen, thoughtfully affixed to my computer screen, where I cannot help but notice—and smile. “I LOVE YOU—ALWAYS,” it will read, or “I’M PROUD OF YOU.” Then again, some of his messages are entirely pragmatic: “I FED THE DOG ALREADY. DON’T FEED HIM AGAIN,” or mildly sarcastic: “REMEMBER TO PUT THE FISH IN THE FRIDGE OR WE’LL ALL DIE OF FOOD POISIONING.”

Either way, I’m instantly charmed.

Likewise, my Romeo is liable to warm my heart by bringing me a beef and cheddar panini from Jazzman’s—an exceedingly delicious mid-day indulgence inspired entirely by that-which-moves-good-deed-doers-to-action. What’s more, the man has texted me while perched atop the lawn mower—proclaiming his abiding love for me under the blazing sun. Or maybe it was to remind me to pick up an errant flip-flop in the lawn. I can’t remember now, but I’d like to hope it was the former.

While I was pregnant he satisfied all sorts of culinary cravings, too, whipping up a shameful quantity of raspberry milkshakes and fetching dried apricots in the dead of night. He also tied my shoes, as the swell of my freakishly large belly thwarted my every effort to reach my knees, let alone my feet.

Further, the man has no qualms whatsoever in dealing with our brood when they are beyond the point of persnickety at mealtime, obscenely tired and cranky at the close of a trying day, impossibly giddified over this or that perfectly inane thing or even while hurling profusely into a big bucket—all of which I find inordinately romantic. Strange, but true. Plus, he fixes stuff that’s broken. He ferries children hither and yon. He masterminds our every holiday feast. He cooks and shops and bears in mind what he’ll need for meals—which isn’t normal, I’m told. Not for a man. Nor is suggesting that on some lazy afternoon we should rent Doctor Zhivago—an epic love story in the truest sense. “What’s so weird about wanting to watch a movie together?” he’ll ask, puzzled by my stunned silence.

Oblivion abounds, my dear Romeo.

Lately, said oblivion has risen to a new level, giving me reason to shake my head in disbelief. Just before Valentine’s Day, following an appreciable snowfall, he got up at dark-thirty to take the dog out, which necessitated shoveling a path in the back yard so that our vertically challenged pooch might not disappear altogether in a snow drift. “How thoughtful,” I mused. Some time later, I went to the window to admire what he had done. Lo and behold, he had carved a most enormous heart there in the sparkling snow—roughly 20 feet across with an arrow piercing its center. “Whoa,” was all I could mouth, astounded by this wonderful thing he had surely done to woo me once more—as if Aphrodite herself had guided the shovel there in the grayness of dawn.

Naturally, I showered him with gratitude, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him closer to the window so we could gaze at this thing of beauty together, hand in hand. “How sweet and kind and UTTERLY ROMANTIC of you!” I gushed.

“Romantic?” he repeated, fumbling over the word and glancing in the direction of the window.

“Yes! ROMANTIC!” I affirmed, sure that he was merely playing dumb. “How on earth did you do such an amazing thing?!”

What amazing thing? I shoveled a path in the snow. For the dog.”

“No no no. That’s not a path. That’s a HEART! A GINORMOUS HEART NESTLED BETWEEN THE PINES JUST FOR ME—FOR VALENTINE’S DAY! That was so completely ROMANTIC of you!”

Stupidly, he looked out the window and back at me with an expression that clearly conveyed the wheel is spinning, but the hamster is dead. It was the point at which he could have and should have rescued himself. A simple nod of agreement and a half-hearted smile would have sufficed. But no. Not for my oblivion-minded Romeo. My (accidental) hopeless romantic.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with my dear, sweet Romeo).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comA Decade of Enlightenment: Ten Things Parenthood Has Taught Me

I’ve been a parent for some 8,286 days. A stunningly imperfect parent, I hasten to add. During that period of time I learned more about sleep deprivation, sibling rivalry and teen angst than I previously considered humanly possible. However, the past decade has proven to be particularly edifying. Indeed, Thing One and Thing Two have provided me with a veritable feast of enlightenment. So, in the spirit of welcoming the new decade and the vat of enlightenment sure to come, I thought it might be fitting to recap what the last 10 years have taught me—at least from the perspective of a stunningly imperfect parent.

1)    Beauty is likely in the kitchen. Translation: Most of the masterpieces I’ve collected thus far in my parenting journey are proudly displayed upon my refrigerator, where I suspect they will remain for a very long time to come. That is not to say the face of the fridge is the only canvas upon which said prized artwork hangs in all its faded glory. My home is quite literally inundated with the fledgling, Picasso-esque efforts of my brood, serving as a constant reminder of their boundless generosity and artsy flair. As it should be, I suppose.

2)    The word “sleepover” is a misnomer. No one actually sleeps at a sleepover—including the pitiable adults charged with the impossible duty of entertaining the gaggle of impressionable youths in attendance. Furthermore, the later slumber party-goers appear to crash, the earlier they will rise, demanding bacon and eggs. Moreover, it is inevitable that someone’s personal effects (i.e. an unclaimed pair of underpants, a lone sweat sock, an irreplaceable stuffed animal) will be tragically lost—only to show up months later in the oddest of places.

3)    When taken out of context, that-which-parents-say-and-do is often appalling. Case in point: “Stop licking the dog.” “If you’re going to ride your scooter in the house, wear a damn helmet.” “Fight nice.” In a similar vein, I’ve fed my charges dinner and dessert in a bathtub more times than I’d care to admit, I’ve used a shameful quantity of saliva to clean smudges off faces, I’ve suggested a broad range of inappropriate responses to being bullied and I consider the unabashed bribe to be one of my most effective parenting tools.

4)    A captive audience is the very best sort of audience. That said, some of the most enlightening conversations between parent and child occur when the likelihood of escape is at a minimum (i.e. at the dinner table, in a church pew, en route to the umpteenth sporting event/practice session/music lesson, within the confines of the ever-popular ER).

5)    On average, we parents spend an ungodly amount of time reading aloud books that we find unbearably tedious. We say unforgivably vile things about the so-called “new math” and, as a matter of course, we become unhinged by science projects and whatnot—especially those that require mad dashes to the basement and/or the craft store at all hours of the day and night in search of more paint, more modeling clay and perhaps a small team of marriage counselors.

6)    Forget wedding day jitters, the parent/teacher conference is among the most stressful experiences in life—not to be confused with the anxiety-infused telephone call from the school nurse and that interminable lapse of time wedged between not knowing what’s wrong with one’s child and finding out.

7)    Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, the child-with-a-camera is undoubtedly the most fearsome—although the child-with-webcam-knowledge is equally clever and decidedly terrifying as well. More specifically, the aforementioned entities possess an uncanny knack for digitally preserving our less-than-flattering moments. Joy. What’s more, they have a certain weakness for documenting freakishly large or (gasp!) green-hued poo, which I’m told is bizarrely linked to the consumption of blue Slushies. Color me enlightened, yet again.

8)    Kids are hard-wired to harvest every syllable of that-which-their-parents-shouldn’t-have-said so that they might liberally share those choice phrases in the most humiliating venue and manner imaginable (i.e. during show-and-tell, at Sunday school, in a crowded elevator, while sitting upon Santa’s lap, at the precise moment the guests arrive).

9)    The discovery of a teensy-tiny wad of paper—one that has been painstakingly folded and carefully tucked within a pocket, wedged beneath a pillow or hidden inside a dresser drawer—is akin to being granted psychic powers. Everything a parent needs to know about their child will likely be scrawled upon said scrap of paper.

10) Unanswerable questions never die—they simply migrate to more fertile regions of our homes where they mutate into hideous manifestations of their original forms, leaving us wringing our hands and damning our inadequate selves.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (getting schooled as we speak).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comTen Ways to Say “Thank you,” Mom

Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us. Time for family, feasting and a well deserved respite from the impossible demands and harried pace of life. Time for bribing my kids to wear dress clothes, for hiding the abomination of clutter that exists within my home and for treating the reluctant gravy stains that will inevitably occur. Time for bickering about Paterno, Pittsburgh and the absurdity of Palin’s new reality show. Time for snapping wishbones, smoothing tablecloths and clinking fancy silverware. Together.

It’s time for pies, pictures and parades, too, as we reconnect with loved ones, near and far. Mostly, though, it’s time to gather and to give thanks for harvest and health, just as it was at Plymouth in 1621. Indeed, it is time to give thanks for the many people and things deemed instrumental in our lives.

I for one recognize the wealth of goodness with which my life has been blessed. But on this particular Thanksgiving Day, my thoughts rest on my mother—perhaps because her world came crashing down this past June, perhaps because of the battle she’s now fighting, perhaps because she’s always been there for me—even still. So thank you, Mom, for so many things…

…for being a good listener in spite of the vat of foolishness I’m sure to have delivered over the years…for reminding me that you can never have too many friends or woolen blazers…for emphasizing the importance of pausing when a child speaks, allowing the void to be filled with what’s really on their minds.

…for letting me do stupid (yet exceedingly edifying!) things—like putting all kinds of time and energy into a less-than-seaworthy raft, like chewing gum in bed, quitting band, forgoing French and studying till 3am for a physics test…like getting a disastrous perm, allowing gossip to consume me and dating boys with long hair and fast motorcycles.

…for tolerating my imprudence and forgiving my mistakes—like burning our water pump, which transformed our swimming pool into a pond overnight…like tormenting our sitters unmercifully, forgetting your birthday and breaking God-knows-how-many windows and flower vases…like betraying your trust by filling our house with teens and booze while you and Dad vacationed in Florida.

…for encouraging me and inspiring a sense of belief in myself, teaching me to accept what I have and to handle disappointment when it visits…for helping me recognize the inherent value in power naps, mental health days and a good, long cry.

…for letting me go…on the mother of all road trips with eleventy-seven of my closest friends…to the lake with the aforementioned motley crew…to an insanely large university where I would surely be swallowed up in lieu of finding my path in life…for biting your tongue when I quit my job in the city and when I married the wrong man.

…for introducing me to the almighty crock pot, to the concept of saving money and to the notion of waiting for the real prize instead of grasping desperately for the veneer of gratification.

…for underscoring the importance of writing thank you notes, of spending time with my grandparents, of talking to babies and of liking myself—even when I’m least likeable.

…for teaching me how to sort laundry, to deal with a loathsome roommate, to make a mean pot of chicken soup, to soothe a grexy baby, to contend with a rebellious teenager, to find a great pair of black flats…to appreciate the patina of a genuine antique and the untold merits of a good iron…to instinctively know when to opt for eggshell (as opposed to ecru)…to own my decisions, to list pros and cons and to always weigh my options carefully.

…for loving your grandchildren with as much ferocity as you loved me, for implanting within me the seeds of faith and for instilling me with the impetus to seek solace within the pages of a good book and nurturance within the arms of a good man.

…for letting me be there for you and Dad this past summer—likely fouling up your checkbook and misplacing things in your kitchen forevermore, but being there nevertheless.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (giving thanks).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comDances with Carts

Shopping carts are the bane of my existence. It seems I have an uncanny knack for choosing ones that are both polluted with germs (Gak!) and hideously deficient in some unforeseen manner (i.e. equipped with a smarmy, foul-smelling handle or some gunked-up, pathetic semblance of wheels that lurch and rattle and are positively driven to move me in any direction but straight).

For whatever reason, I tend to poo-poo the many and varied imperfections at first, foolishly thinking that I won’t have to tolerate them all that long and they certainly won’t be all that bothersome in the end. Moreover, the truly vexing nature of most of the rogues I choose doesn’t become readily apparent until I’ve already journeyed halfway through the produce aisle, mindlessly fingering the fruit and considering whether we need more carrots or romaine. By then I’m committed to the match made in hell. For better or for worse. Till death do us part. Or at least until I manage to shove the misfit-of-a-cart through the checkout line or muscle it to my car where I can finally ditch it for a better life.

To add insult to injury, I often have to endure such hardships with my heathens in tow—the lovely creatures who yearn to make each and every shopping excursion I embark upon more memorable. And they do. Whining incessantly about this or that item—the one that the mean-and-horrible-troll-lady won’t let them have. Wrestling over the matter of who gets to man the cart first. Wooing me with pleas for sinfully sugary cereals and those sickly sweet gummy snack-a-ma-call-its that ought to be removed from the planet altogether.

Apparently it is not enough to be blessed with a wayward cart.

And once I make that regrettable and irrevocable decision to allow one of my miscreants to navigate the treacherous trail ahead, my fate is sealed. Someone’s ankles will indeed pay the price. Likely, mine. Despite the innumerable lectures I’ve delivered, the live demonstrations I’ve provided and the vat of instructional guidance I’ve offered on the subject, my two dandies, though well-intended, are physically incapable of maneuvering from Point A to Point B without smashing into someone or something. Granted, the aforementioned errant and evil wheel-a-ma-jigs do little to further their cause.

Not surprisingly, at some point during each supermarket tour my patience usually wanes with the pushing-of-the-cart-ludicrousness, climaxing shamefully somewhere between the toothpaste/shampoo aisle and the frozen foods section (i.e. the beast that is mommy rears her ugly head). As I return to the helm, attempting to pilot that which refuses to be piloted, I am met with yet another challenge: that of effectively communicating to my brood the notion of walking single file. My futile commands typically go something like this: “Okay girls, someone is coming toward us now and we need to walk single file.” “Girls?” “Hellooooooo. This stinking aisle isn’t WIDE enough for all three of us AND another cart to pass—is any of that remotely registering with you two?!”

Of course, neither child of mine responds, so engrossed are they with hanging onto the sides of my cart, eyeing the shelves for more of that which is forbidden. I must then stop the cart and clumsily move them—as if they were a couple of giant chess pieces—either in front or in back of me, smiling apologetically to the person now upon us. Again and again I repeat this cart dance—this utter lunacy, aisle after aisle, both stunned and amazed that creatures capable of telling me anything and everything I might want to know about a Euoplocephalus dinosaur cannot grasp the concept of hiking somewhere single file.

And let us not forget the times when one or both “helpers” insist upon riding inside the cart, “…so you can pile all the stuff on top of us, Mom, like we’re inside a little house! That’s so cool!” Naturally, there are people who find this disturbing—especially when they detect a hint of movement somewhere beneath the econo-sized Goldfish and the Lucky Charms.

“Do you know there are children in your cart?” they’ll ask, alarmed by the possibility that I could, in fact, be so clueless as to not notice a couple of stowaways on board.

“Yes. They’re with me, otherwise known as Dances with Carts.”

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (forever dodging those ankle-biting menaces in the grocery store).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comWelcome to Guppyville

Two 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 grip 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 with a penchant for becoming guppified.

That said, I’m not entirely sure my kids even wanted to learn to swim—like guppies or anything else equipped with fins and gills. 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 terrible, horrible, no good, very bad abyss that surely sought to harm them.

For a time (read: an obscenely large chunk of their lives), we allowed such an idiotic practice to continue, doing our level best to enable our children 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 sit back idly 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?! You font of wickedness!” More than anything I felt helpless—almost 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. 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-ish 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 (in Guppyville).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comIt’s the Little Things That Make Life Sweeter

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and I can’t help but be reminded of how sweet life truly is on February 14th as well as every other day on the calendar—with or without the chocolate-covered delectables, mawkish cards and heart shaped hoo-ha. Case in point, my husband used to pack little baggies of food for me each day before he left for work, filling them tenderly with freshly peeled carrots, bunches of grapes or a handful of pretzel bites or cashews. Most days there was a half a turkey-on-rye waiting in the wings for me, too, abundantly dressed with lettuce, tomato and provolone. Its mate could likely be found on the same refrigerator shelf, neatly sliced and ready for instant retrieval.

However, it wasn’t a job for the thin-skinned. There were standards to be met. My slightly specific and less-than-succinct criteria: each conveniently bagged delight had to be flavorful (yet devoid of gassiness), it couldn’t be the least bit drippy or crumbly or, Heaven forbid, unwieldy if food can be described as such. Most importantly, I had to be able to consume it using just one hand—often on the fly or holed up in a chair for God-knows-how-long nursing a grexy baby. Or two.

Needless to say, great care and consideration went into preparing such sustenance for me and I was eternally grateful—both for the man’s diligence and for his abiding tolerance of my changeable mood. After all, it was the finger food that served as my salvation during that interminable stage of parenthood (i.e. the maddening era home-alone-with-newborn-twins, when I would have given almost anything for a hot shower or a real sit-down meal with something as fancy as a fork or idle conversation). But the bundles of nourishment he so thoughtfully provided, though short on style, surely delivered that which I needed most: the feeling of being cared for and remembered each day. It was a little thing that made my life that much sweeter.

I’d daresay the majority of what enriches my world could be categorized by most as something seemingly insignificant or ordinary at best. Something perhaps unremarkable to the masses, but dear to me. Like the little notes and drawings my kids stuff inside my pockets and tape to my computer, knowing that later I’ll stumble upon them and smile. Or that my oldest—beyond all logic and understanding—still confides in me and seeks my counsel. Or at the close of an especially trying day in the trenches of Parentville, when I feel like the most horrible mother on earth because I dumped someone’s special potion down the drain or because I forgot to tell the yard crew not to haul away “…our eagle’s nest, Mom!” or because I screamed at them over nothing or because I failed to listen yet again—I get this amazing and completely undeserved gift in the form of a breathy secret whispered in my ear at bedtime, “Mommy, I wouldn’t trade you for anything. Not even for a worm.”

Stuff like that makes me melt. And I’m that much surer it’s the little things in life that matter most. Like the twitter of songbirds after a long, hard winter. A handwritten letter amidst a sea of emails. A yellow moon on the rise. The brackish breeze, the cries of seagulls and the soothing sound of the ocean after driving forever to get there. The way my kids’ eyelashes curl and the thicket of sun-bleached hairs on the napes of their necks. The way my grandmother traced my ears to coax me to sleep. My grandfather’s firm belief that I was “big enough” to help him feed the cows, steer the tractor and hay the fields. Clunking around a farm in real barn boots. The warm muzzle of a horse. The company of a cat. The affection of a dog. The lullaby of crickets. The tang of autumn. The whisper of pines. The crisp scent of a novel, yet to be consumed. Fresh newsprint. Thistledown. Snowflakes. The smell of rain. Holding hands.

I often stumble upon small wonders, too, in unlikely places—like the special stones on someone’s dresser, harvested from Grandma’s house “…to help me remember her, Mom.” And crumbs in someone’s pocket—the remains of a bit of bread “…I saved for Taylor from my lunch today at school. It got all crumbly when we shared it, Mom.” And heartfelt notes of apology—painstakingly folded and carefully wedged between the pages of a favorite book. “Sorry Sadie. I really love you a lot. You’re the best sister ever!”

Of course, there was the strange but wonderful vine, curiously twisted into the shape of a heart, one of my dandies found while foraging in the garage last week. “Here, Mom; it’s for you.” But it couldn’t hold a candle to the cookie she shared with my husband and me recently—the one she cleverly gnawed upon until it, too, resembled a heart.

Indeed, it’s the little things that make life sweeter on Valentine’s Day and every day.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (and continue to devour again and again It’s the Little Things, by Craig Wilson, USA Today columnist and friend).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comMommie Dearest

Always and forever, I am blown away by the seemingly trivial things my kids remember about their lives. The stuff that apparently pools and coagulates in the corners of their minds, having made some sort of lasting impression upon them for whatever reason—good or bad.

“…like the time I was sick and stayed home from school and you hurt your knee chasing Jack (aka: the dang dog) around and around the living room. Remember, Mom?! He had CAT POOP in his mouth and he wouldn’t let you take it! We laughed and laughed so hard!”

“…like the time I ran really fast down our front hill, tripped over the curb and got pebbles stuck in my hand. Remember, Mom?!” (Read: the time I wanted to hurl because of the sickening thud your body made when it hit the pavement, never mind the torrent of queasiness that washed over me when I realized those were ROCKS embedded in your hand!)

“…and how ‘bout the time Daddy tried to drown me in the shower at the Adirondacks?” (i.e. a date which will live in infamy during which he slathered said child’s filthy face with soap, mistakenly assuming she’d have enough SENSE to rinse it off, as opposed to inhaling voluminous quantities of water).

What’s more, I am completely fogged by the way my charges can recite verbatim the vat of horribleness I’ve delivered on more than one occasion (most of which have involved orange juice spillages and missed school buses). More specifically, the shameful string of words that pour unremittingly from my stupid mouth despite KNOWING how infinitely wrong and hurtful they are (i.e. the parenting tirades from hell during which the wheels fly off and Mommie Dearest rears her ugly head).

Likewise, I am baffled by the intimacy my brood shares with their beloved rocks—oh, my hell, the rocks! The ones that adorn their dressers and windowsills. The ones that spill from my Jeep’s nooks and crannies. The ones now housed in my garage (forever and ever, amen). The ones for which a special affinity has grown to a frightening degree. That said, my heathens know from whence each stone came and, perhaps, more disturbingly, why each particular nugget of earthy wonderfulness was harvested and hauled home in the first place, “…because my friend gave it to me and said I should keep it forever,” “…because it spoke to me and I just had to add it to my collection. Each rock is a memory, you know. Why do you always want to take my memories away, Mommy?”

As if that blurbage wasn’t enough to ensure that I will, in fact, die a slow, horrible guilt-induced death, I recently learned of another cardinal sin for which I will pay dearly.

Child: “I ate a napkin once, Mommy.”

Me: “You ate a what?! A NAPKIN?!”

Child: “Yep. A napkin. I sort of nibbled and nibbled it till it was gone.” (Touches fingertips to lips, pretending to gently gnaw imaginary napkin so that I might better understand).

Me: “You ATE AN ENTIRE NAPKIN?! When, where and why on earth would you do such a crazy thing?! People don’t eat napkins (for Crissakes)!” (Hands on hips, appalled by the notion).

Child: “Well I did. Back in kindergarten. At snack time. Besides, my friend ate a tag right off her shirt one time ‘cause it was bothering her. I saw her do it. People DO eat paper-ish stuff sometimes, Mom.”

Me: DEAD SILENCE coupled with a look that likely suggested I had gone off the deep end (shock does this to people I’m told).

Child: CONTINUES WATCHING SPONGE BOB, entirely engrossed in said ocean-inspired idiocy, unaffected by my horrified expression.

Me: “But WHY?! What possessed you to do such a thing?!” (Thinking, of course, this HAD to have been the result of some kind of twisted dare that five-year-olds routinely engage in).

Child: “I was hungry,” she said plainly.

Me: “You were hungry?!” (Clutches heart, gasps).

Child: “Yep. You didn’t pack enough Goldfish in my snack and I was still hungry; so I ate my napkin,” she stated simply, as if telling me I had forgotten to fill her squirt gun, so she commissioned some other schmuck to do it.

At this, of course, I cringed—deeply ashamed of the atrocity I had unknowingly committed, wanting ever so desperately to crawl beneath a rock and die…a slow, horrible guilt-induced sort of death. One entirely befitting of Mommie Dearest (i.e. she-who-would-deny-her-child-adequate-Goldfishy-sustenance).

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with an abundance of tasty napkins and an unbearable burden of guilt).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comA Sacrilege of Sorts

There are but two kinds of people in this world—those who brazenly read the endings of books before the endings are actually reached and those who would never dream of a crime so heinous. I myself fall with the masses into the latter category, always mindful of the tenets we must uphold: Thou shalt not spoil the endings of good books no matter how dire the circumstance or how great the temptation.

Of course I’ve been so bold as to glance at the last page while contemplating a purchase in the aisle of a bookstore, allowing my eyes to sweep across the fuzziness of passages, to graze but not actually rest on hallowed words, erasing all hope of ever being rewarded for my ability to resist that which is sinfully alluring. If nothing else, I can be proud of that.

However it wasn’t until I was deeply immersed in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Chapter Seven of this scrumptious read-aloud, more specifically) that I became painfully aware of a terrible truth: my children would (and, in fact, had) flipped ahead 20 chapters in said prized piece ofliterature, to the very last page (gasp!) “…because I wanted to know what would happen to Edward, Mom. I was worried about him. He lives, you know.”

Of course, I was horrified. And profoundly disappointed. I had higher hopes for my progenies—hopes that they would grow to become upstanding citizens, embodying all-that-is-righteous-and-good. Principled people who knew better than to commit sacrilege. Instead, it appears, my wayward bunch has embraced the dark side of life. Even my oldest daughter has admitted to that which is a sheer disgrace—she reads the very last sentence of every novel—as a rule. Needless to say, such a divulgence rendered me speechless and unable to move from the spot where I stood, slack mouthed and struck with horror.

“Why?! Why would you do such a thing?!” I had to ask finally, eyes fixed upon the creature I thought I knew.

“I don’t know. To pique my interest I guess.”

To pique your interest?!” I shrieked, shaking my head in disbelief. “Good grief! Where’s the mystery in that?! Where’s the long-awaited pleasure that a grand culmination promises?! The delicious sense of satisfaction derived from having journeyed far and wide across the vast and uncertain terrain of a narrative gem?!” I demanded to know.

She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “What’s the big deal, Mom? It’s just a book.”

Of course, this was wrong on so many levels that I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around the unspeakable horribleness of which it reeked. Nor could I forgive the other two rat finks for having stolen my joy. I wanted to discover for myself Edward Tulane’s fate—to continue devouring the book, page after succulent page, and eventually, to drink in the magnificence of the grand finale that surely awaited me.

But it was not to be. Those devilish creatures continued to fill my ears unmercifully with details of the story, doling out bite sized blurbages just to watch me writhe in pain. “No! NO! Don’t tell me a syllable more!” I pleaded, wondering from whence this penchant had come. I don’t remember anyone bursting at the seams to tell me all about Goldilocks or Little Red Riding Hood, Chicken Little or even the Poky Little Puppy. Back then, apparently, it was a non-issue. The end was something that would be revealed in due time upon turning the last page. As it should be.

I’d almost rather my heathens wantonly fling caterpillars across the living room and stuff them inside their backpacks (oh wait, they’ve done that!), saturate thirsty bath rugs at will (done that, too!), fill countless drawers with water enough to make hair brushes and blow dryers float (and that!), or plaster the dog with lipstick “…’cause we wanted to give him purple-ish lips, Mom!” than to rob themselves of the parting gift of a fine book.

Sadly, this represents yet one more area of life I cannot control. I must come to grips with the fact that my children will choose friends, careers and eventually mates—almost entirely devoid of my (infinitely sagacious) input. And ultimately they will decide whether to continue as card-carrying members of the Flip-Ahead-to-the-Last-Page Club. Ugh.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comStill is the Night

Shortly after the big, yellow school bus groaned to a halt and deposited Planet Mom’s brood at the curb, the skies grew angry and the winds began to whip, swirling all manner of leaves and debris about the place. The heavens rumbled in the distance and massive clouds moved swiftly as she and her children hurried up the grassy knoll to the safety and comfort of their home. Together they sat, perched at the northernmost bank of windows, and watched with amazement as a monstrous wall of gray swallowed the September sun as if it were a mere lemon drop. A raging storm was indeed very nearly upon them.

A sudden shroud of darkness then descended upon the land whilst towering pines swayed in the yard and lawn chairs skittered like spiders across the wooden deck, tumbling into the bushes and startling the children and their curly-haired dog. Shortly thereafter, lightning lit the skies and thunder shook the house unmercifully, causing the dog to cower in a corner—its springy, white tail hidden between its legs. Lights flickered ON and OFF and ON again while rain began to pelt the roof in fitful waves, thwarting all efforts to keep the smallish creatures in question focused on their homework. It was a school night after all.

“Are the lights going to GO OFF and STAY OFF, Mom?” one of the pair asked, a hint of apprehension in her voice. “What’ll we do then?”

Their mother, not being particularly gifted in the realm of meteorological topics, shrugged her shoulders and tried desperately to think of something that might divert her daughters’ attention away from the impending doom that seemed all but certain to strike.

“Get back to your schoolwork,” she instructed, all the while pretending to ignore the deafening cracks of thunder and the sirens that wailed in the distance. “It’s just a thunderstorm.”

“But how will we see to do our homework if the lights STAY OFF?” the wisp of a child probed further.

“Yeah,” her infinitely inquisitive counterpart added. “And how will we watch TV tonight?”

“I’ll think of something,” the mother asserted and then silently lamented the notion of being without television (and the computer and the microwave andso on) for what would surely seem an eternity.

Lo and behold, at some point during the ferocity of the storm, the power did, in fact, fail and legions of flashlights (many without functional batteries) were summoned from beneath beds and forgotten drawers. Cleverly, the woman lit scented candles; however it was soon determined that her progenies had mysteriously developed an incapacitating aversion to being near an open flame—despite having enjoyed countless marshmallow toasting events during the summer involving (gasp!) campfires and whatnot. “My homework will catch on fire, Mom!” So out the candles went directly, along with any bit of cinnamon-y goodness that might have emanated from said waxen devices.

Dozens of minutes elapsed and darkness fell. Soon the woman’s mate returned from work and joined the anxious bunch, eager to instill calm and assurance where fear had begun to creep. Savory snacks and a multitude of shadow puppets were instantly produced to the delight of many. Needless to say, the man’s offspring were mightily impressed with his skills and mesmerized by the uncommon and authentic nature of the railroad lanterns he managed to unearth from their pitifully disordered garage. His wife was equally impressed with the aforementioned feats and in return promised never to divulge the number of times he flicked light switches like a fool—because she, too, stupidly flicked switches.

Eventually, the punishing storm passed and the winds subsided, although the power outage continued. Nevertheless, an abundance of laughs were shared as were stories of parental hardship involving crippling snow storms and great floods during which both heat and electricity were lost for days on end. “Wow! That must have been horrible, Dad!” (Translation: “How did you survive without the Disney Channel, Dad?!”) More importantly, the family reconnected in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. Everyone took turns recounting the day’s ordinary and not-so-ordinary events. The dog’s ears were gently stroked and beloved books were read within the soft glow of the lanterns as the children nestled upon their mother’s lap.

At the close of each chapter, just before she began reading the next, she paused ever-so-slightly—and that was the moment during which a strange and wonderful thing befell them. All was perfectly still—aside from the crickets outside calling to would-be mates, the dozing dog and the breathy whispers of children completely engrossed in the deliciousness of literature. As it should be. No ever-present drone of the air conditioner could be heard. No television blared in the background. Not even the familiar hum of the refrigerator or a solitary screen saver could be detected. The sacred wedge of silence was magical, entrancing and wholly alien to those huddled upon the floor and sofa.

Just then the power returned—an abrupt and unwelcome guest. The household whirred and lurched back to life, removing all but the vestiges of ambiance and intimacy. The children blinked as if snapping out of a trance. Their squinty-eyed mother closed the book and used it to shield herself from the brightness, now everywhere. Her mate sat up suddenly, forcing himself to process the transformation. The dog awoke with a start. Shortly thereafter, everyone went their separate ways—back to the tired and the familiar. The spell had been broken, irreparably so. Or had it?

“We should do this again, Mom! We should have a fake power outage everyweek!” the children insisted at breakfast the next morning, smiles all around.

And so it was. Fake Power Outage Night was thereby established as a new family tradition and it was duly noted that batteries should be abundantly stockpiled.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (paying tribute to the ever-masterful Garrett Rice, aka Neanderdad, and his patented writing style).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comLipstick on a Pig

Once again, the silly season is upon us and much of the voting public is consumed with all-that-is-political—namely, the dirt. As predicted, the media has succeeded in joining the fracas, muddying the waters by capitalizing on our inability to filter out the noise and by feeding our insatiable desire for entertainment. In sum, those self-serving spin-factories have made something of nothing yet again (i.e. an offhanded comment about slathering some swine with lipstick mushroomed into a circus-like event last week, causing an uproar which served to detract from the vat of filth that would ordinarily command our collective attention).

Naturally, the nothing (which is now officially something) was plastered everywhere imaginable—on the Internet, on my television screen, in my newspaper, in my car…across my kitchen table (Gasp!). Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.

Most of my displeasure centered around the thoughtless nature (read: evil-spirited glee) with which newscasters delivered the juicy sound bites day and night—fueling the fire that would surely lead to mayhem in homes everywhere. Homes in which impressionable youths reside—the ones who would willingly (and oh-so-joyfully) embrace the notion of putting lipstick on a pig—or anything else, for that matter. As if my kids needed that gem of a seed planted firmly in their twisted little minds! “A PIG! What a marvelous creature to festoon with lipstick!” they likely pondered upon hearing it—scheming and dreaming of how such a clever ploy might be acted upon.

Good grief. Those tactless twits may as well have suggested flushing a bar of soap down the toilet (like my brother did!), putting rocks in the dryer or hiding a gallon of milk in the bowels of a closet—all completely absurd (yet infinitely viable) possibilities that exist among the gamut of that-which-is-downright-naughty.

That being said, my heathens have painted nearly every surface imaginable with (among other things) lipstick. Pink and purplish hues, more specifically, harvested from a make-up kit that I (in a moment of great weakness) purchased for them. Thus far, hapless targets have included the dog, our cats, their dolls, bears and Beanie Babies “…to make them more beautiful, Mommy, so they can get married.” Of course, I resisted the urge to inform, “A dab of lipstick does not a beautiful bride make,” tabling it for a later discussion. No doubt, at some point I’ll also be charged with explaining the infamous hockey-mom/pit bull commentary to my daughters as well as demystifying terms like glass ceilings and penis envy.

Joy.

As an added bonus (thank you very little), all this newsy-schmoozy foolishness regarding lipstick and whatnot has unearthed a bit of ugliness for which I am truly ashamed. Said mommy meltdown (which occurred several years ago and involved mass quantities of lip gloss, rouge and enraged shrieking) easily qualified as one of those utterly hideous events I’d prefer to put behind me. Forever.

Needless to say, it was not my finest hour when I happened upon my wily charges merrily decorating furniture, stuffed animals, mirrors and their entire bodies with the aforementioned sinful materials. I later learned that there was a method to their madness: the lions needed to wed (see paragraph five), certain penguins needed pink underpants, a select group of dinosaurs needed purple slippers, and because they had barricaded themselves in their bedroom and their hands were too slippery to turn the doorknob, they wiped all the glimmery, glammory gunk on their dressers and smeared it deep into the carpet fibers, careful to try and match the colors of the gunk with the colors of the rug. “How brilliant!” I should have recognized—only I didn’t view it as such then.

Up until that point in my parenting career, I didn’t know one could injure one’s throat by screaming. Nor did I expect the solid walnut slab of wood I slugged in my fit of rage to be more solid than the knuckles of my right hand.

However, I didn’t need X-rays to prove my idiocy. That was painfully clear. Even still, I am reminded of it each time I glance at my mismatched hands, one being a tad lumpier in the knuckle department than the other—now and forever. To add insult to injury, however, I had to hear, “Yep, it’s probably broken—but it’s too late to do anything,” from my friend, Drew, who also happens to be a doctor. “Ice should help,” he advised.

Perhaps you can put ice on an idiot. But it’s still an idiot.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comSmother May I?

Someone hand me a machete. Some scissors. Nail clippers. Anything! Puuuuleeeeez! I am in desperate need of said sharp-ish devices so that I might finally, and for all eternity, sever the apron strings that bind me inextricably to my eldest daughter, now 21.

To be clear, she is not to blame. It is I. I am the foolish one—the insanely overprotective, nurture-obsessed fusspot-of-a-mother who simply won’t let go of her woman-ish child to save herself. It is entirely possible that I need therapy. Admittedly, I have issues. Serious issues with mothering. Or more correctly, smothering.

Just last week, in fact, I gave the poor kid some money and asked her to run some errands for me, ones that would involve d-r-i-v-i-n-g somewhere, p-a-y-i-n-g for things and actually i-n-t-e-r-a-c-t-i-n-g with people. Imagine that. At any rate, from the moment she left until she returned a short time later, I was filled completely with a host of irrational fears, some of which involved the very real possibility of being abducted by aliens, being whisked away by a man in a monkey suit and, of course, being suddenly stricken with dementia—in which case she’d wander the earth interminably searching for that which she couldn’t remember anyway.

Naturally (and as expected), I also obsessed over dreadful car crashes she might have, navigational nightmares she could experience and the legions of unsavory characters with bad teeth and mismatched socks she was sure to encounter during said perilous journey to town. Never mind all the road trips to urban destinations she’s made without the benefit of mapish entities (i.e. the countless times she’s made me DERANGED WITH PANIC for not having enough sense to take along a fricking MAP of metro D.C.). Grok!

Further, I became gravely concerned that she might not remember to pick up the book I so desperately needed for comic relief that day (Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay), she would forget to count the change to make sure it was right and by some strange twist of fate, her ability to string coherent sentences together like, “My Mom ordered this book. I’m here to pick it up,” would be lost forever, leaving her at the mercy of bookstore employees who would then send her packing with an obscenely pitiful piece of literature just to clear the aisles of derelicts and whatnot.

Needless to say, none of the above mentioned horrors came to fruition. But that is not to say they couldn’t have. Because they could have.

I’m just saying….

To be sure, I sent my dear child out into the big, bad world armed with that which I deemed necessary for survival: a Ziploc baggie with enough cash, a detailed list of the stops I had planned for her (complete with street addresses and suggestions for where to park), coins for the meter and a reminder that she should call with the least little question or concern—like forgetting how to breathe, for instance. It’s a wonder I didn’t hand her milk money and tell her to look both ways before crossing the street—something my husband swears I whispered in her ear on the day she left for college.

I did no such thing. At least not that I can readily recall.

It’s true. I have issues with letting go and must fight the urge each and every day to position a safety net beneath her wherever she might venture. She’s not two anymore, despite how vividly I remember that period in time. The way she twisted and twirled her hair (or mine) when she grew tired and longed to be rocked. Her well worn thumb planted securely between those pouty lips. Those blue-gray eyes, framed by a thicket of lashes—lashes that lay like petals on her sweet face only yesterday.

Indeed, only yesterday.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (feeling wistful these days).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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 Quindlen, Mitch 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

www.melindawentzel.comThe Birds and the Bees and Kangaroos, Too

Never once did I imagine calling upon my vastly deficient knowledge of marsupials to aid in providing my youngest charges with a rudimentary understanding of human sexuality. Nope. I banked on hitting the high points of the famed birds-and-bees lecture while drawing upon what little I know of how cats and dogs come into this world. Not kangaroos. Further, I had hoped for more time to mull over the intricacies of the issue and to ready myself for such an important conversation.

It’s a bit fuzzy, of course, but I can picture the mother-daughter “dream chat” in my mind’s eye. It would take place on a warm summer’s afternoon. On a grassy knoll. DECADES FROM NOW. Each of us would be swathed in something white and billowy and richly infused with cottony goodness. We’d find a breezy shade tree to sit under, sip lemonade from tall glasses sweating with condensation and calmly discuss the notion of how babies are made. Each of my dear children would then promise never to have sex until the age of 30—and only after consulting the volumes upon volumes of relationship-related advice I would have dispensed by then (read: the vat of directives only an overprotective fusspot-of-a-mother could issue).

But it was not to be. My moppets wanted information and they wanted it NOW.

Fortunately the gods were smiling upon me that day. Smirking, actually. That said, my ill-prepared discourse on the subject was at least satisfactory—having sufficiently addressed (read: stumbled and bumbled my way through) the fringes of reproductive particulars, quelling my brood’s interminable curiosity for a time.

“Tell me again, Mom. Why is it you have to have surgery in the place where you carried us?”

“Well, I have a…a…a…sort of a problem inside and the doctor needs to fix it,” I answered while patting my midsection gently, knowing full well this response would merely serve to open the floodgates of interrogation hell for my little quizmasters.

“What kind of problem?” they both pressed.

“Well…it’s a mommy problem,” I offered tentatively—as opposed to a “daddy problem” that we, as parents, tried and failed miserably to explain some time ago. As I recall, one of my dandies wondered if a vasectomy involved removal of all or part of Daddy’s brain. Naturally, I resisted the urge to field that particular question, allowing my husband to fish for an answer that would satisfy the masses—and perhaps keep me from choking on my fist.

“Oh. Daddies don’t get this problem?” they quizzed.

“Nope. Just mommies. They are the only ones who have that special place in their bellies where babies grow. Sort of like a kangaroo’s pouch.”

“But you’re not a kangaroo, Mom! And you don’t even have a pouch!”

“Yes, I do!” I defended. “Well, sort of. It’s an inside-pouch. The one where you both grew and grew like tiny seeds. It’s a pouch that you can’t see—exactly. And that’s where the problem is. In my pouch. Yes, that’s it! I have a pouch problem!” I happily confessed, hoping against hope their relentless grilling would soon fizzle out. “End of discussion!” I wanted to shout. “Go torment the cat!” I was tempted to suggest. But lo and behold (and before the famed “How do babies get in there anyway, Mom?” rolled off their tongues) they swallowed it. My analogy, crazy as it sounded, had worked. The questions stopped directly and they appeared to be genuinely content with what I had offered in explanation. Strange, but true.

So after my far-from-textbook discourse on the birds and the bees (and kangaroos, too), I was free to return to what I had been doing—brooding and stressing over the soon-to-be-scheduled procedure that would in effect end my childbearing years. And despite knowing it wouldn’t be life threatening or even life altering for that matter, somewhere deep inside I felt it would be a life changing event. It smacked of finality. Of another chapter in my life coming to a close. Of coming to terms with an inevitable truth: One day soon my womb would no longer serve as the soil in which a seed could be sown, a haven for a child-that-might-have-been.

That said, there is a certain sadness and unwelcome quality tied to that realization and somehow, a sense of abruptness as well. Somewhere at the core of my being a voice shouted in protest, “But I’m not finished yet! I’m not done nurturing! Part of me still longs for a baby at my breast and the chance to nuzzle a newborn once more! My newborn!” Rest assured it’s not as if I’ve seriously entertained the idea of having more children at this late date. I suppose it’s the possibility of doing so with which I have become enamored, as foolhardy and completely unrealistic as that might be. Being with child—having a hand in the wonder of creating life—has changed me forever, just as the pouch problem remedy will likely do.

Indeed, as it should be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (recovering nicely, thank you).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comBe Mine, Valentine

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I simply cannot wait. The world has been doused with a palette of pink and red hues since mid-January and my appetite for chocolate and sweet nothings has officially been whetted. Ironically, however, I think I felt a greater sense of eagerness and excitement over the coming holiday as a third grader than I do now (no offense to the love of my life who makes it his business to woo the socks off me every hour of every day).

But from my perspective, February 14th somehow held even more promise than Christmas Day or birthdays back then. There was something marvelously alluring, indeed almost magical, about the air of mystery surrounding the customary trading-of-valentines thing. Maybe it was the not-knowing aspect with which I was most enamored. I loved that wild-with-anticipation feeling as I thumbed through my cache of tiny envelopes and heart-shaped lollipops, cleverly skewered through cards I would soon ogle. And the thrill of having to wait and see who would deliver what sort of message to whom was beyond compare. (Even an eight-year-old has a vested interest in the politics of social networking and acknowledges fully the veneer—I mean the sacredness of camaraderie). But it was the sheer open-endedness, veil of anonymity and overwhelming pandemonium of the event that made me drunk with joy. I get giddy just thinking about it.

And yet there was more. I was mesmerized by the passion with which classmates seemingly approached the making-of-the-valentine-collection-devices (i.e. the crafty boxes and brown paper bags we poured ourselves into, plastering them ridiculously with construction paper hearts, glue galore and pathetic looking cupids). Maybe that explains why I’ve felt compelled to festoon every in-box I’ve had since then, hopeful they would somehow appear more inviting to those who had good news to deliver—during February, or any other month.

But maybe, just maybe, I so greatly revered Valentine’s Day as a grade-schooler because of the grand and glorious party that customarily consumed much of the school day afternoon—that coveted window of time after lunch and before dismissal when no one wanted to work anyway. It was something we all looked forward to with untold enthusiasm. Books and pencils were jammed hurriedly into desks while cutesy napkins and cups took their places. Foil-covered chocolates, Red Hots and Sweetheart candies stamped with coy little messages were doled out by the fistful as were stickers and gum, pencils and erasers. And without fail, someone’s mom made each of us feel extra special by placing a big, heart-shaped, slathered-oh-so-generously-with-icing cookie, before us. No one left empty-handed or found themselves wanting for anything—except for maybe a bigger bag to help us haul it all home.

Oddly enough, that may, in fact, be what struck me most about that magnificent day of yore—the dumping of the bounty in the middle of our kitchen. With a deafening crash it cascaded to the floor and lapped at my ankles—serving as consummate validation that I was worthy of befriending. It was then the process of sorting began—the good stuff and the really good stuff were categorized and piled accordingly. Everything had value and deserved careful inspection—even the foolish tripe I’d never use or eat in the decade to follow. Like a pirate I pored over my loot, swimming in a sea of wares, reveling in my good fortune and newly forged friendships. I sang the praises of this or that custom-made valentine to whomever would listen and gleefully accepted each invitation to “Be mine!” It was sheer bliss, I tell you—in a cupcakes-with-pink-frosting sort of way.

Oh, to be a third grader once more….

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comHands Upon My Heart

When I was nine or ten, I remember well my enthrallment with my mother’s hands. They were delicate and slender, sweetly scented and rose petal-soft—so completely unlike my own nicked and scraped, callused and chafed boy-like hands that were better suited for wielding a hammer and throwing a fastball than anything else. Mine were distinctively earthy, too, largely because remnants of dirt and grass simply refused to be removed. Or at least that was the sentiment I held for much of the summer. It was a byproduct of being a kid, I suppose, literally immersed in a world of sod and soil from sunup to sundown. Never mind my fondness of forests and rocky places, which typified a deep and abiding bond with nature—one that I’m not quite sure my mother ever completely understood.

At any rate, my hands told of who I was at the time—a tomboy given to tree climbing, stealing second base and collecting large and unwieldy rocks. Everyone’s hands, I’d daresay, depict them to a certain degree, having a story to tell and a role to play at every time and every place on the continuum of life. Traces of our journey remain there in the folds of our skin—from the flat of our palms and knobs of our knuckles to the very tips of our fingers. As it should be, I suppose.

For better or for worse, our hands are the tools with which we shape the world and to some extent they define us—as sons and daughters, providers and professionals, laborers and learners, movers and shakers. That said, I’m intrigued by people’s hands and the volumes they speak—whether they’re mottled with the tapestry of age, vibrant and fleshy or childlike and impossibly tender. Moreover, I find that which they whisper difficult to ignore.

Likewise, I’m fascinated by the notion that ordinary hands routinely perform extraordinary deeds day in and day out, ostensibly touching all that truly matters to me. Like the hands that steer the school bus each morning, the hands that maintain law and order throughout the land, the hands at the helm in the event of fire or anything else that smacks of unspeakable horribleness, the hands that deftly guide my children through the landscape of academia, the hands that bolster them on the soccer field, balance beam, court and poolside, the hands that bless them at the communion rail each week and the hands that brought immeasurable care and comfort to our family pet in his final hours. Strange as it sounds, I think it’s important to stop and think about such things. Things that I might otherwise overlook when the harried pace of the world threatens to consume me.

If nothing else, giving pause makes me mindful of the good that has come to pass and grateful to the countless individuals who continue to make a difference simply by putting their hands to good use. For whatever reason, this serves to ground me and helps me put into perspective how vastly interdependent and connected we are as a whole. Indeed, we all have a hand (as well as a stake) in what will be.

Equally important, methinks, is the notion of remembering what was. More specifically, the uniqueness of those I’ve loved and lost. A favorite phrase. A special look. The warmth of a smile or the joy of their laughter. Further (and in keeping with the thrust of this piece), there’s nothing quite as memorable as the hands of those I’ve lost—like my grandfather’s. His were more like mitts, actually—large and leathery, weathered and warm. Working hands with an ever-present hint of grease beneath his hardened nails, and the distinctive scent of hay and horses that clung to him long after he left the barn. And although decades have passed, I can still see him pulling on his boots, shuffling a deck of cards and scooping tobacco from his pouch—his thick fingers diligently working a stringy wad into the bowl of his pipe, followed shortly thereafter by a series of gritty strikes of the lighter and wafts of sweet smoke mingling reluctantly with those from the kitchen.

Of course, my grandmothers’ hands were equally memorable. One had short, stubby fingers and a penchant for biting her nails to the nub. Always, it seemed, she was hanging wash out on the line, scrubbing dishes or stirring a pot brimming with macaroni—my favorite form of sustenance on the planet. By contrast, my other grandmother suffered the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis as evidenced by her hands. To this day I can picture a set of finely manicured nails at the tips of her smallish fingers—fingers that were gnarled and bent unmercifully, although they never seemed to be hampered when it came to knitting a wardrobe for my beloved Barbies.

Not surprisingly, I can still summon an image of my brother’s hands, too. Almost instantly. They were handsome, lean and mannish-looking—yet something suggestive of the little boy he had once been lingered there. Needless to say, I am grateful for such delicious memories—the ones indelibly etched upon my heart.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the hands that have touched my life).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comWag the Dog

Okay. We didn’t name the newest addition to our family Wag although it did cross our inane minds. As did Jell-O, Jingles, Moxie, Max, Fluffy, Scruffy, Snowball, Sam and Sid. The moniker of Nipper was also tossed around a good bit—given consideration primarily for the surprisingly accurate descriptive quality it possesses.

My husband, of course, lobbied hard for simply calling him Dog—borne of a ludicrous (and thankfully, thwarted) desire to name his cat, Cat. (How completely juvenile!) But I digress. After great deliberation, carefully weighing the appropriateness and popularity of each possibility, we finally settled on a name for the puppy that Santa (in his infinite wisdom and boundless generosity) bestowed upon us Christmas morning. In the end, Jack Snowflake garnered the most votes. And so it was.

Jack “…because he popped out of a box like a Jack-in-the-Box, Mommy!” and Snowflake “…because he’s fluffy and white!”

But it was a compromise of sorts—in more ways than one. Not many of us in this household (myself included) actually wanted a pooch. But now that we have officially joined the ranks of “dog people,” we’re slowly warming to the notion, completely in love with his smallish bark and his I’m-a-big-ferocious-dog growl which surfaces whenever he wrestles a sock into submission.

Chief among the reasons for this unlikely development: Jack is so stinking adorable that it is beyond comprehension—almost to the point of edibleness. In a word, he’s a quart-sized ball of cottony fluff that I am physically incapable of leaving alone. Nor can I resist the urge to coo to him like a new mother, convinced that her wriggling infant can actually understand the deluge of gibberish that spills from her unremittingly.

Yes, I talk to the damn dog. As if he were a sweet, sweet baby. We discuss happenings in this house, the goings and comings of its inhabitants, the gnaw-worthiness of his toys, the fleeciness of his blankie, the futility of nursing cats, assorted political hokum and, of course, poop.

“My, what a BIG BOY you’re getting to be, Jack! And what BIG TEETH you have!” Without question, I have uttered this prideful phrase no less than 46 times a week and have cheered his piddlings (when properly placed) at least that many times in the last three days alone—as have all who have witnessed said joyous achievements. Well, it certainly seems as if we’ve hooted and hollered over wee-wee success that often.

Further, the kiddos have invested a goodly chunk of time “teaching” our fuzzy friend a thing or two, cleverly demonstrating each in turn—like how to wave bye-bye, how to prance around on two paws, how to lie down so that a belly rub will result—and yes, they’ve even credited themselves with showing their beloved Snowflake how to bark, growl and pant. Where, I ask, would he be without them? I shudder to think—considering that my husband and I would have likely halted instruction after he nailed the pooping-and-peeing-in-the-right-spot gig.

And like any overly exuberant, newish parents, we’ve journeyed far and wide to purchase the latest and greatest gear to outfit him, dropping an inordinately large sum of cash for stuff we apparently think we’ll need in the next decade—to include a glorified pen and expandable baby gates, roughly 16 million chew toys, a cushy bed (that’s reversible!), a jazzy harness thingy and a fancy-schmancy leash (that I have absolutely no trouble at all picturing entwined around my legs).

We even splurged on a natty little sweater and a doggie-wearing device, so that I can take him with me on jaunts around the neighborhood—calling his attention to all the lovely places he will find to poop once he graduates from those wretched puppy pads. Thus far however, we’ve only made it to the bus stop, where Helen, our driver, was more than a little amused to see him perched there, papoose-style. Good Lord, what’s happening to me?!

I’m embarrassed to admit that the tail may, in fact, be wagging the dog here. In retrospect, maybe Wag would have been a befitting name for our newest family member.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comMother-of-Pearl

For months on end my husband and his family have poured untold hours and energy into a seemingly thankless job—that of sorting and stacking, shedding and saving all the worldly possessions of their mother who passed away a year ago in May. A woman who kept virtually everything from manuals to mood rings, record albums to receipts, letters to lawn chairs. A woman who lived through the Great Depression and had the hoarding mentality to prove it.

I’d surmise the mammoth task itself has been both vastly cathartic and infinitely taxing, at times testing wills and sapping the emotional reserves of all involved. Lord knows if I were saddled in the same way, I’d feel tremendously overwhelmed, if not defeated. And without question, I’d grapple with a gamut of issues—most of which would revolve around the sticky business of what to keep and what to cast.

Honestly, what does one do with bushels of handwritten letters dated from the early 1900’s, or War Ration Booklets, or thousands upon thousands of unused plastic bags, or instructions (and supplies!) for the creation of a perfectly functional fallout shelter? I, for one, have no idea.

I’d like to think that under similar circumstances, stone cold logic and practicality would prevail, driving many of the decisions that I would be forced make. And yet, somehow I get the real sense that I’d be stymied by the shades of gray inherent in the deed and tormented by the finality and weightiness of it all—torn between letting go of the past and clinging desperately to what was, even if that piece of the past were manifested in something as seemingly trivial as a yellowed snapshot or an age-old wooden spoon. Needless to say, I don’t envy anyone placed in such a difficult position.

As luck would have it, I was asked to help out last weekend—to spend some time rummaging through the dusty bins and tattered boxes that held the personal effects of a woman I grew to love and appreciate as my mother-in-law, but whose spirit and vitality I had only begun to know. My assignment: to sift through the remnants of her jewelry and to wade through the vat of photographs she had amassed in her 84 years. Thankfully, the bulk of the job had already been done. I was merely commissioned to harvest whatever I personally deemed of value—sentimental or otherwise.

On the surface, the chore appeared simple enough. But soon I felt burdened with the pressure of choosing (or forsaking) that which would kindle warm memories, that which would serve to enrich my children’s remembrances of their grandmother, that which would keep her ever near. What’s more, I was riddled with guilt all the while—as if I were leafing through someone’s diary, devouring intimate pages and passages that were never intended for my consumption. As I foraged through her sea of treasures (charms and chains, broaches and bracelets, pendants and pins), I found myself completely mired in the task, lost in my thoughts, meticulous to a fault.

It seemed that each tiny relic told a story—only there were gaps in the details, ones she’d gladly fill were she able. There were turtles and trains, lobsters and lockets and, of course, hummingbirds—her favorite earthly creature, or was it butterflies? There were fistfuls of political buttons, too; JFK, FDR, Truman and Humphrey to name a few. She was a good Democrat for certain. Oddly enough, among the wealth of artifacts I pawed was a set of knob-ish things meant for walking in high heels on the boardwalk—with a note she had scrawled telling of their purpose! Who knew such foolishness even existed?! Not I.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, however, to learn that she had set foot in all 50 states during her lifetime. I needed only glance at the feast of evidence spread before me. The multitude of mementos she possessed spoke volumes, much like the snapshots stuffed inside closets and relegated to the cellar. All of them are perhaps windows to her soul—like a vast array of special moments frozen in time, unearthed once more for the benefit of those she left behind.

As I continued to sift, I couldn’t help but remember on what occasion she wore which accessory. And I could almost hear bits and pieces of the conversations we held, revisiting the time we shared and recalling, even still, how warm and wonderful she looked. How warm and wonderful she truly was.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comIn the Eye of the Beholder

Contrary to what I’ve alluded to in the past, my kids are not monsters. And although I might have actually used that term on occasion to describe them, they’re not the unruly beasts I’ve made them out to be. They don’t howl at the moon, froth at the mouth or frantically paw the refrigerator when I forget to feed them.

Nor do they growl, unless provoked.

But apparently I know not of which I speak. Evidently some high and mighty prude who has seen my act begs to differ regarding the matter of my having or not having fiendish little children. Further, she’d likely argue the point if given the opportunity. Vehemently, I might add. All I’d have to do is invite Her Haughtiness to return to that happy place where she witnessed (i.e. heard, but could only imagine the scene that unfolded behind the flimsy partition that separated us) the mayhem with which I had to deal just four days before Christmas, crammed and jammed impossibly inside a restroom stall which was clearly ill-equipped to accommodate a mom and two cranky six-year-olds itching for Happy Meals.

I have no doubt the woman in question would be more than willing to sprinkle me with her wealth of sagacity, to dazzle me with her bells and whistles regarding behavior management and child rearing, to enlighten me with a report of everything I’ve done wrong as a parent thus far in my thankless journey—to spell it out for me on the terracotta tiles with French fries: YOUR PARENTING SKILLS SUCK AND YOU’D BE BETTER OFF RAISING CHICKENS, YOU DUMB CLUCK!

She might have a legitimate point. But probably not enough fries to say so.

Everyone knows that McDonald’s isn’t the ideal place to change clothes. Nor is it wise to instruct ungainly children to do so there—demanding from them a degree of perfection that is at best, unachievable. But there I was—parading my little waifs through the joint like some transient-sorry-excuse-for-a-mother, en route to the bathroom to supervise (oh-so-incompetently) the changing-out-of-pajamas-and-into-real-clothes gig. Make that abundantly muddied PJs. “I fell down on the playground today, but I didn’t get hurt, Mommy—the mud was FUN!”

“Lovely. Just lovely,” I thought. “We now appear even MORE pathetic than I previously considered conceivable.”

Granted, it had been Pajama Day at school and it made perfect sense for my kids to be dressed as such (as well as still jacked from all the sugar they had consumed during the pre-holiday festivities). But no one else knew that. Most of the patrons I passed probably pegged me as someone who lives in squalor and who makes a habit of hauling her brood there to wash up and whatnot. In reality, however, we were simply using the loo as a staging area for a meltdown, which qualified as a performance of a lifetime as I recall. Prude Lady could testify to that at least.

Incessantly, it seemed, we bickered about who would get to stand where, who would go first, who would hold coats and bags and sneakers, who would get to flush (and when said flushing would take place), what did or didn’t happen during the Polar Express movie and whether or not a certain someone blew a kiss to a boy earlier in the day (“…because that’s not allowed, Mommy; only hugs are okay!”).

Ostensibly, this meddlesome witch witnessed the entire routine, likely pressing her ear to the wall so as not to miss a single syllable. As expected, the debate continued within that tiny theater and escalated until it became a pushing and shoving match, spiraling out of control with each combatant furiously shrieking “YOU!!” while shoving a finger in the other’s face.

“She LICKED my finger, Mom!”

“She called me ‘YOU’ first!”

And so the battle raged. Throughout the ordeal, I was painfully aware of a disapproving audience hovering just inches away, and I felt the familiar sting of humiliation and frustration. All the while I snapped and snarled through clenched teeth, “Get your sleeve off the stinking floor!” “Don’t drop that into the toilet!” “Stop hitting your sister!” “Hurry up already with those pajamas and keep your socks ON YOUR FEET!” “Your father’s waiting, you know!”

How could I possibly explain myself, justify my children’s behavior or even show my face once I stepped outside the stall that had become my personal shield from the world? Miss Holier-Than-Thou would be waiting there for me, wagging her finger. Demanding answers. Chiding. Judging.

“Little monsters,” she’d also likely spit.

Oddly enough though, she had few (albeit barbed) words for me when I finally braved it. “GOOD LUCK!” she huffed condescendingly, as I hoisted my heathens to the sink to wash—their anger all but diffused and differences long since forgotten.

I couldn’t help but think she doesn’t get it. She only saw a tiny slice of my day and a mere shadow of the relationship I share with my children. She thinks my kids hate each other and that I must completely loathe my lot in life as their mom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s important to take time to view the picture in its entirety. Snapshots don’t always tell the whole story.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comThe Twelfth of Never

My refrigerator is the center of my universe, the heart and soul of my very being and without question, the hub of all that defines my world. Not because of the mince pie, Jack cheese and leftover potato salad contained within. But because of the Almighty Calendar that hangs on its shiny surface—eye-level, next to the school lunch menu, surrounded by tiny scraps of paper upon which I scrawled phone numbers I need to know but will never remember. And like a lot of well-worn items in my household, it looks as though it belongs there—wedged comfortably between favorite photos, prized artwork, a colorful array of magnetic letters A to Z and those all-important memos and appointment cards without which I would most certainly shrivel up and die.

Each perfect square on that grand and glorious grid of events represents a chunk of precious time. And it must—I repeat, it MUST—have something scribbled within it. Someone’s birthday. A holiday mealtime. A veterinary appointment. An eye exam. New tires for the car. A vacation destination. A reminder to return the kids’ library books. Something. Anything. Except nothingness—which would imply a sort of nothingness about me, I suppose; or perhaps that downtime actually exists in my harried world. Ha! White spaces on my calendar!? How ridiculous. I should be so lucky.

There are swimming lessons, birthday parties and play rehearsals to attend. Basketball games, hair cuts and doctors’ visits galore. Empty blocks simply do not reflect the reality that is mine. Besides, the voids make me feel guilty—as if I have nothing better to do than sit around and watch bits and pieces of Play-Doh dry and crumble while the kids are at school. Calendars crammed to capacity with details of this or that planned affair give me a real sense of purpose, of direction, of connectedness with the outside world—linking me to all the goings-on I have chosen to include (willingly or not). And they provide a healthy dose of structure and truckloads of predictability, too—both of which are sorely lacking under this loonified circus tent. In sum, calendars bring a smattering of order to my otherwise disordered world. I shudder to think where I’d be without mine—mired in some muddled state till the twelfth of Never, no doubt.

Some days the world simply spins too fast for me (as my friend, Ruth, has so often quipped). Nothing could be closer to the truth. But my oh-so-wonderful, month-at-a-glance, tangible timeline-on-the-fridge helps me hold it all together, to keep everything in its proper perspective and to effectively answer questions like, “What are you doing next Tuesday the 16th?”

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have a clue unless and until I consulted the silly calendar. At least I know my limitations—one of which involves not straying too far from the Master Schedule. Another: Writing small enough so that everything is neatly and completely contained within its designated block—an impossible task to say the least.

But I love calendars, despite my personal limitations in dealing with them. I especially enjoy receiving a crisp, new one for Christmas (a traditional wish list item in this household) and spending a lazy afternoon in January slathering its pristine little blocks with all sorts of important dates and times to remember. Every syllable precisely placed, of course. Even more thrilling: Adorning my organizational wonder with cool reminder stickers that are sometimes included as a bonus. I’m quite certain that for a day or so following said ritual, I fool a myriad of individuals into believing that I’m impeccably organized. Even I believe it for a time, until that dastardly interloper with whom I reside adds HIS appointments, meetings and countless other chicken scratchings to the revered framework I so meticulously and thoughtfully crafted.

Shortly thereafter, the frenzied pace of the world returns and information starts spilling from those neat and tidy little squares into the narrow margins. Stuff gets scribbled out or transferred to other squares in willy-nilly fashion and big, ugly arrows are drawn across what was once an unsullied masterpiece of time management—which is a lot like life, I suppose.

It is subject to change.

Remarkably, most of us manage to muddle through the madness with a few reroutings and derailments here and there, which builds character, I’m told. Maybe that’s what makes the month-by-month journey worth journeying—even if it’s just to the fridge.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comBittersweet

They say something good always comes from the bad. I heard that a lot in the weeks and months following my brother’s death. And for a long time I found the cliché positively detestable. I hated hearing what I believed was a lie. As if well-meaning friends and family didn’t know what to say, so they just slapped on something that appeared fitting for the occasion, filling the void with words that not only fell flat, but stung each time I heard them.

How were they to know such statements would do more harm than good? Surely none of it was intended. Maybe they figured the more I heard it, the closer I’d be to believing it. Perhaps they thought I’d be comforted in the knowledge that someday, somehow, someway—something good would come about as a result of losing someone so dear to me. Robotically I nodded my appreciation and understanding and put on a perfunctory smile, but down deep I harbored a sea of doubt.

The sweet scent of his cologne, as I leaned in to kiss him one last time, still lingered in the corners of my mind. The haunting memory of his pale hands, cold and lifeless under the warmth of mine, was as fresh as the marmalade skies last evening—only more indelibly cemented. Thoughts of standing there next to his rose-draped casket and running my hand along its silky oak finish—as if my touch could protect him and keep him near me forever—were still too vivid and too painful to believe something good would ever be a byproduct. The hollow clang of the church bell, singing its sorrowful song, rang ever clear in my ears as did the soloist’s heartfelt rendition of Our Father. I knew then and there that life would never be the same, so to listen to everyone’s spiel on how this would eventually turn into something good seemed to me an asinine thing to do.

Suffice it to say, there was little anyone could say to convince me otherwise. Strangely enough, it was my youngest children who first opened my eyes to the possibility that, in fact, something wonderful could arise from a circumstance so indescribably horrible. All I had to do was drink in the magic of their innocence and undeniable wisdom as it unfolded before me.

Ironically, one of the initial glimmers of hope arrived on the morning of the funeral—although I didn’t view it as such then. My husband graciously shared with me something one of our twins had answered while dressing for the occasion. “Come on, Hon,” he coaxed, thinking it might be a struggle to get one or both to the church in time. “We need to go and send Uncle Jeff to Heaven now.”

“But Daddy, he’s already there,” she stated with an air of assurance far beyond her years, literally stopping my husband in his tracks just long enough to wipe his eyes and marvel at the gravity of her words. “Wow,” was all I could manage in response.

The girls drew special pictures to include as parting gifts for their uncle—ones we promised to tie up with pretty pink ribbons and carefully place next to him, amidst the river of satiny folds lining his casket. “Uncle Jeff’s gonna put ‘em on his refrigerator I’ll bet,” chirped our curly-haired wonder to her blue-eyed counterpart.

“Hey, God doesn’t have just ONE refrigerator, silly; He has LOTS and LOTS! Maybe even 100!” she fired back, prompting a discussion I had never myself imagined having—but they did.

“No He doesn’t; He has MILLIONS!” the other corrected. And so it continued; but not once was it suggested that refrigerators DIDN’T exist there in that special place, or that God hadn’t thought it would be important for uncles to display the artwork of favorite nieces. Maybe that’s precisely what my husband and I needed at that moment—to learn that hope and faith and unwavering belief dwell within beings barely old enough to tie their own shoes. It happened again when they penned letters and expected us to mail them to Heaven. Of course, we did just that—using two “Heaven stamps,” in lieu of tying them to balloons—the preferred method.

Something good had indeed arisen, albeit bittersweet. But sweet nonetheless.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comSweet Dreams

Putting a child to bed at a reasonable hour has never been my forte. Okay, it’s at the bottom of the list, hovering slightly above ice sculpting and changing a flat tire. Admittedly, I am pitiful when it comes to the bedtime routine thing. Clearly it represents for me yet another mommy arena in desperate need of improvement. That, and remembering to dab sunscreen on that little spot on the tops of their heads.

I suppose it’s the chore-like feel of the whole rigmarole that gets to me. And the fact that I have to bark those tired old orders each and every night like some sort of tyrant: “Brush your teeth!” “Get your jammies on!” “Go to the bathroom!” “Don’t drink so much water!” “Shut off that blasted television!” and “Quit fooling around in there and GO TO SLEEP!”

Quite frankly, I’m spent at that hour and I can’t stand having to “work” when I’m already maxed-out on the exhaustion scale myself. But then again, mommies don’t punch a time clock. Their shifts never truly end. And downtime is nothing but a myth—unless, of course, you count the smidgen of time spent alone in the shower or those precious moments locked within the solitude of a closet, where the din cannot follow and where the world can wait until we’re reunited with our marbles—yet again.

So it is nothing short of remarkable when the nightly “change” finally occurs—that indescribable transformation within me that takes place shortly after books are read, tuck-ins are complete and the sandman officially arrives. Gone is the sense of urgency and frustration. Erased is the tension that once filled the air. Dulled and diluted is my shameful volatility, hissing like the air that leaves a balloon.

None of it matters now. My tiny bundles of energy and neediness are lost in the land of dreams. Sweet ones, I hope. No matter what the hour…no matter how sapped the day has made me…no matter how vehemently irked I am about the stringy clumps of Silly Putty forever welded to the carpet, or the pinkish yogurt drippings, still clinging like sap to the edge of the coffee table—I feel compelled to watch them as they sleep. Silent and still, at long last.

I tousle their hair, study their tender hands, now supple and yielding as they lay in mine, and soak up the trace of lavender bubble bath, lingering in those sun-streaked locks. Our breaths mingle intimately as I draw nearer to steal yet another good-night kiss, awed by the peace washed over their faces and rugged little bodies. Even their pea-shaped toes are finally at rest, tucked snugly under their bottoms which rise and fall with each restorative breath.

For me, each night’s agenda is nearly the same: To try and commit to memory every minute detail imaginable—to freeze the moment in time, so that I might return to it at will decades from now. The curve of their lips, their smallish frames, the feel of their skin, the warmth of their tiny fingers, and the way their eyelashes lay like petals against their cheeks—these are the things I want to remember. Not how their endless chatter, unbearable bickering matches and miles of raucous galloping over hill and dale drove me berserk the day before. And certainly not my ogre-ish bedtime routine. I’d like to erase that altogether—or perhaps amend it.

Watching closely, I can’t help but be reminded of how they used to be; and for a wistful moment I wish they were back—needier than ever, scooching around the place, babbling on about whatever it is that babies babble on about. But I’m a realist at heart. I know I can’t go back.

As a rule, I also push the rewind button to review the day’s events—trying to recall our special conversations and to remember the highlights: What we did, who we saw and where we went (if we happened to do or see or go anywhere, that is). And of course, I dwell on the mistakes I made as a parent and vow to be a better mommy tomorrow.

It’s a promise worth keeping.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comMatters of the Heart

One day not long ago I was assigned a task with a difficulty rating of eleventeen and warned not to screw up under any circumstances (death and/or dismemberment excluded). More specifically, a certain resident of this household (who will remain nameless to protect and preserve her privacy) charged me with the responsibility of delivering an extraordinarily important valentine under the veil of complete anonymity—come hell or high water. Needless to say, the pressure to perform was on.

“Now Mom, let’s get this straight. You promise to drive to his house and put this valentine in his mailbox while I’m at school, right?”

“Right. I promise.”

“And no one will see you, right?”

“Nope. No one will see me.”

“And you won’t tell anyone, right?”

“Not a soul. It’s our little secret.”

“Good. Because I don’t want him (i.e. he who will also remain nameless to protect and preserve his privacy) to know that I’m his secret admirer and if I hand it to him at school, he’ll know (Well duh). And if I hand it to his sister, he’ll know. And if I hand it to his teacher, he’ll know. So it has to go in his mailbox. Today. After the mail gets delivered. Okay?”

“Okay. Today. AFTER the mail gets delivered—lest the dear mailman inadvertently stumble upon said nugget of wonderfulness in the great abyss of the mailbox, feast his eyes upon all-that-is-sweet-and-sentimental, ogle its multitude of carefully crafted, penciled-on hearts and feel all warm and fuzzy inside, pondering the delicious possibility of having a secret admirer somewhere in the vicinity. A secret admirer who would, indeed, invest inordinate quantities of time and energy in order to fashion the consummate valentine—one imbued with sweetness and crafted with care.” Not that the mailman in question doesn’t deserve such a valentine or couldn’t actually have a host of secret admirers eager to shower him with sweet-nothings and whatnot. Maybe he does.

At any rate, I completed the aforementioned mission and kept my vow of silence—till now—because, of course, I can’t help but dwell on the notion that some day (no doubt, all too soon) that child of mine will no longer be filled with the innocence and pureness of heart required to orchestrate such a deed. She’ll be far too grown up for such foolishness and it’ll be far too much of a bother to spend so much time painstakingly decorating something for someone who won’t know from whence it came anyway—which saddens me greatly.

“How completely juvenile,” she’ll likely huff at my suggestion of engaging in a little Valentine-ish fun and brightening someone’s day in the process. “That’s baby stuff, Mom. Everyone knows that.” A roll of the eyes and a flip of the hair will no doubt accompany her remarks.

I suppose I can add it to the list of that which no longer thrills my brood (i.e. hugs and kisses in public, lavender-scented lotion after a bath, help with tangles and pronouncing large and unwieldy eighth-graderish words). Soon, I fear, my charges will stop inviting me inside their sprawling blanket forts to read books and to share secrets. Worse yet, they’ll outgrow the desire to build them altogether. And although I can barely tolerate the scourge of disorder said fortresses bring to my home, I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Likewise, I’ll miss being asked to care for a bevy of stuffed animals while a certain couple of somebodies are away at school. And I’ll rue the day that my van Gogh-inspired progenies no longer insist their prized artwork be displayed on our refrigerator-turned-monstrous-collage—an entity so completely blanketed with bits and fragments of our lives, to know my refrigerator is to know my family.

Regrettably, I can accept what the passage of time may bring; but I don’t have to like it. And I don’t have to let go just yet. Indeed, my youngest charges are decidedly too cumbersome to hold in my lap, yet I still rock them on occasion. I haul them upstairs to bed now and again, and I reach for their tender hands when we go for walks—walks during which they’re too busy catching snowflakes or harvesting stones to notice my hand in theirs, warm and familiar.

I kiss them in the dead of night, too, just because.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (contemplating matters of the heart on Valentine’s Day and every day).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comMen in Tights

Men don’t belong in tights. Nor do they belong in stores that sell tights apparently. At least that’s what my husband thinks—after I sent him on an insufferable mission to obtain a couple pairs for our resident ballerinas/heathens-who-needed-suitable-Easter-attire on short notice. Of course, this ridiculously urgent need arose because I don’t plan particularly well. June Cleaver (as a mother of daughters) would have had a stash of snag-free tights at her fingertips, available in a rainbow of sizes and colors for all of her tight-wearing brood.

I’m no June Cleaver.

Me: “Hon, would you run to the store and pick up some white tights for the girls? They need them for church in a size 4-6. Oh, and they have to have feet. And they have to be stretchier (is that a word?) than the ones I got for Palm Sunday. Remember those wretched things? It was like they were meant for some squatty toddler with beefy thighs—not a gangly first grader. Remember how stinking irate I got when I tried yanking and pulling on them to get them up where they were supposed to be—and they just wouldn’t go? A squirrel could have lived in that crotch gap. Anyway, I threw the hideous things away. Did I mention that the tights have to be white—not off-white or cream, but white white? Otherwise, they won’t match the dresses I bought. Can you handle that, Hon? I knew you could.”

Dutiful Husband: “Alright already. I’ll do it (insert string of indecipherable griping). White tights. Not cream. Size 4-6. With feet. Stretchier than the last ones. Got it. But remember this—you owe me. This is NOT my idea of fun.”

Needless to say, when the man returned it was evident that the assigned task, which had indeed not been the least bit fun, proved to be a supreme challenge. I would owe him for an eternity. Maybe longer.

Me: “Thanks for getting the tights, but where are the feet? I believe I specifically stated that they needed feet. These are ‘capris,’ Hon. They have no feet.”

Dutiful Husband: “Wad-da-ya mean they DON’T HAVE FEET?! Why doesn’t it just SPELL THAT OUT IN ENGLISH on the stupid package for crying out loud?! And what the $#@* does ‘capri’ mean?!”

Me: “It means they have no feet.”

Dutiful Husband: “And a man should know this—why?!” (I assumed—correctly—that this was a rhetorical question).

The love of my life then proceeded to fish out the phone book and dial up another establishment that could potentially save the day. (No sense driving there when the impression of idiocy could be made over the phone just as handily). It saves everyone time and trouble.

Dutiful Husband: “Hello? Yes, I need two pairs of white leotards in size 4-6 WITH FEET. Do you have such an animal? No? Okay, thanks anyway. Bye.”

Me: “Did you just ask someone for leotards? We need tights, Hon, not leotards. White ones. With feet.”

Dutiful Husband: “Who do I look like?! Fricking Baryshnikov?!!! I’m a DAD—not a guy who buys stuff like…like this!” he shrieked, motioning emphatically at the soon-to-be-returned merchandise. “Leotards. Tights. Tights. Leotards. What’s the difference?! I don’t pretend to know the difference! I’m not supposed to—I’m a DAD, remember?!”

At that point I quietly and privately acknowledged how infinitely obtuse I had been to expect the man to deliver under the circumstances. It was an impossible mission and one I probably just should have carried out myself. Then again, I could have wound up with that home for wayward squirrels/embarrassment-of-a-crotch-gap disaster a second time and felt like a fool all over again. Either way, I lost.

Me: “I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have ever…”

Dutiful Husband (furiously punching numbers into the phone): “No, no. I’ll do it. I told you I’d do it and I will. Hello? Yes, it’s me again. APPARENTLY I don’t need leotards, I need tights,” he said through clenched teeth. “White ones. Size 4-6. With feet. Do you have ‘em? Good. I’ll be right there. Hold them for me and guard them with your life.”

This time he came back with four pairs of the silly things (just to be on the safe side). Lo and behold…THEY HAD FEET. And the crotch gap was at least tolerable. All things considered, I was comforted in the knowledge that he came through in the end. But I have to agree…men just don’t belong in tights.

Except maybe Baryshnikov. Somehow they suit him.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comChild’s Play

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.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comThanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year. Not without my mother-in-law who passed in May. She made the best potato filling on the planet. Bar none. Now it’s my turn. My turn to try and fill the house with the most glorious aroma known to man—a mouthwatering mélange of onions, parsley, butter and of course, potato-y goodness. It’s my job to recreate what that Dutch-y dish represented—the warmth and flavor that defined home at Thanksgiving—first for my husband and his sister, and subsequently for me, when I officially joined the family nearly 11 years ago.

I’ll follow the recipe to the letter—careful not to leave anything out or to be so bold as to add some jazzy new ingredient that in theory may seem perfectly sensible, but in practice may prove to be a culinary disaster. I can’t afford a culinary disaster. Not this year. Everyone’s counting on me to produce. But somehow I fear I won’t measure up. Something will be missing. A splash of character. A dash of kitchen wizardry. A deluge of love.

Of course, all the experts will tell you that food isn’t love, and people certainly cannot draw more than mere sustenance from a meal. Nor can their souls be nourished by the almighty spoonful. Apparently the experts never met a woman like my mother-in-law. She’d have proven them wrong a thousand times over. Her Black Magic cake alone would make a grown man cry. Tears of joy, that is. The Williamsport Police Department can attest to that—a select few of its members can anyway. During one of her many visits to Billtown, this modern day Betty Crocker thought those hardworking folks ought to have some cake. So she made it happen. And again and again at Williamsport High School.

That was what she did—all her life. She showered people with food. Magnificent food. Cakes. Pies. Jams. Apple dumplings. Pickled beets. Marinara sauce. Chicken pot pie. Pepper cabbage. Cheese balls.

Potato filling. And all of it was to die for.

It was her way of connecting, of rewarding and of loving I suppose. By all accounts, she was masterful in that arena. I, on the other hand, am a novice. A stranger even to my own kitchen most days. It’s no secret. Everyone knows I’m no cook and that I chose that path purposefully and willingly out of sheer defiance, despite my own mom’s undying effort to bring out my inner chef. Even my kids know the score: “Daddy’s the bestest cook in the land.” Good thing.

Somehow I think my other mother knew she could help me find my way, though. So for the past decade or more, she sort of took me under her wing—or beneath that speckled and spattered apron, so to speak. Patiently she watched me fumble and stumble through the arduous chore of making strawberry jam, pot pie and marinara sauce FROM SCRATCH. It must have killed her to witness such an ungainly creature, one who used to think the powdery mix that comes from a box IS “from scratch”. Even still, part of me clings to the idea that pots and pans are anti-bear devices and that ovens are primarily meant for storing the leftover stuff I’m sick of seeing on my countertops—not for creating edible delights.

There is hope, however. The woman made inroads into this oh-so-stubborn psyche—or as she liked to refer to my obstinate streak: DICK KEPPich. I’m not so reticent to delve into all-things-kitcheny now, although I’ll never come remotely close to owning her prowess there. But at least I own some of her winning recipes. Our favorites, of course. The ones that take us back to that warm and cozy place and that remind us how wonderful she helped make it—for Thanksgiving and for always.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comPottery Barn Lust

Stop it, Pottery Barn. Stop making my kids drool over that which I cannot afford and would never buy anyway. Have you no shame?! My children now hate me. Yes, HATE me—not for demanding that they close your four-color rag at eleven-fricking-fifteen in the evening and get ready for bed already, or for failing to “ooh” and “aah” appropriately as they flip through its pages delirious with wanton desire, but for not dropping everything to order this and that foolish bit of tripe splashed across the landscape of your wondrously opulent magazine. Grok!

Just so you know, I’m on to you. I am. I really am. I’m not even remotely beguiled by your clever little ruse: that of seducing domestically challenged moms everywhere with your pristine layouts, color-coordinated ensembles, outrageously organized living spaces and exquisitely charming patterns that make me weak with desire. Sheez, the uncluttered environment alone makes me shudder with unadulterated pleasure.

Further, you’ve seized upon every mom’s woeful lament: Oh how I long for everything to be in its place, which is utterly disgraceful, you despicable opportunists. And I find your agenda (hidden or otherwise) to be rather disturbing—one that smacks of trickery and the dastardly element of mind control. Your abundant use of muted hues, tasteful explosions of color and the artsy flair you brazenly display is likewise, contemptible, luring us deeper and deeper into your lair of deception. Indeed, your deliberate (yet smartly subtle) arrangement of children (i.e. the self-indulgent little twerps you commission to frolic hither and yon, dripping with good cheer, an obscene degree of decorum and perfectly coifed hair) is absolutely sinful. Sinful, I say!

Yea, page after page of gloriously bedecked bedrooms and bathrooms and play rooms, awash with extravagance to die for, makes me ill. Yes, physically ill—because I can’t quell the beast within that shouts, “You’re a horrible mother! If you really loved your kids, you’d buy that monstrosity of a bunk bed with its adorable little study carrel tucked beneath it, and those delicious-looking Adirondack chairs for the lawn and deck! OMG! Don’t deprive your dear children a minute more, you miserly hag! Order this instant, lest the world should stop revolving!”

That said, the ruinous voices inside my head are slowly but surely making me crazy—one insanely heinous syllable at a time. “Where, oh where will the madness end?” I beg of you. “Begone now, exorbitantly priced beach towels, backpacks and bedding! And take your foolish monograms with you! Don’t forget those pricey jungle-inspired, flower-power-ish, skateboard-esque, pretty-in-pink, ocean-and-surfboard-riddled bedroom themes either. I’ve seen enough already! My kids HATE me, remember?! They loathe the Wal-Mart-ish budget to which I am a slave and will soon be talking trash about me to their nose-mining cronies. Oh, the horror!”

“But before you go, dear Pottery Barn folk, please answer me this: what’s with the legions of baskets, buckets and boxes with which you festoon seemingly every page? Do you actually KNOW children who would willingly place their beloved schlock in a receptacle so intended simply because it is labeled as such?! Are you completely delusional—or do you just revel in your ability to make parents feel pitifully inadequate, as if they couldn’t train a dog to bark let alone instruct a child to put something away?!”

“Never mind,” said the pitifully inadequate mother. “I already know.”

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (amidst an abundance of clutter, chaos and cheapass décor).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comNightmare 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

www.melindawentzel.comAugustember

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

Party-Schmarty

I’m not a big fan of social gatherings. More specifically, the ones that take place within the confines of someone’s living room for the sole purpose of shaming me into buying that which I cannot afford and do not need—be it panties, purses, pendants or some fancy-schmancy little knife for the cheese spread I don’t have and will never pretend to own. Such grand soirées are nothing more than glorified Tupperware parties—a place where cattiness abounds and ulterior motives flourish. A harem-friendly venue where spiels are shallow and the caste system is hailed above all else.

So thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather sit on my deck and quaff beer than fund someone’s cruise to the Bahamas (i.e. to help so-and-so reach some ungodly sales goal by unloading a mountain of schlock). At least there, in the splendor and solitude of my splinter-riddled paradise, no one will hound me, categorize me on the basis of my disposable income or think less of me because I don’t know sea salt scrub from chipotle rub. Nor will anyone flash me a disapproving glare because I’m so off the gauche scale, I can’t even fathom the purpose of a kiwi scooper. I don’t even like kiwis.

Call me a heathen. A boor. An unsophisticated lout. I have no shame.

Quite frankly, I abhor the pretentious nature and giddified hobnob-ery this sort of event engenders, I’m not particularly interested in anyone’s tennis game or golf handicap, nor do I wish to hear about Aunt Marge and the nasty boil on her knee. I don’t care to discuss the latest on Botox treatments, breast implants or the weather either—unless I’m standing in the path of an F-5 tornado. What’s more, I don’t give a hoot about whose kids made the honor roll this month, Angelina Jolie, Donald Trump or those damn Yankees. Getting chatty about politics turns me off, too, given the ubiquitous nature of Republicans. Heaven forbid I hug an oak tree or let my freak flag fly in public. People would talk.

And what do men do anyway? Pout? Sulk? Sit on their hands and brood about not having been invited to the estrogen fest of a lifetime—the coffee klatch of epic proportions? Gnaw on table legs because they can’t chew the fat with a bunch of cackling hens? Silently stew over the dearth of separate but equal manly-man parties—where attendees would ostensibly gather to ogle power tools, fishing gear and toys for the bedroom? Where scantily clad co-eds would rollerblade in and around a pool of testosterone, serving up steaming hot chilidogs and buckets of wings? Or perhaps husbands wholeheartedly embrace the concept of girlie get-togethers, reassuring their lovelies that it’s okay to spend some quality time with kindred spirits—yet silently cheer our collective departure. They’ll never tell.

Thankfully my brain is roughly 43 syllables (read: 2 stupid remarks) ahead of my tongue, so I’m usually able to stifle the stream of idiocy before it’s too late. But often (upon being asked to attend such a veneered affair) I’m dying to ask the prospective host, “Will it be catered? I was told there’d be cake.” “Will there be any behemoth-sized rebates or ridiculously expensive door prizes?” “Will there be a band?” and, of course, “How ‘bout my kids? Will there be anything to keep my hooligans occupied while I peruse your vat of foolish tripe? Mimes, by chance? Pony rides? A lively game of craps in the back alley?”

I didn’t think so.

So hold the Kabuki brush and the feta. I won’t be there.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comIt’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

I’ve often thought that the art of raising children is a lot like carving a pumpkin. In both instances, I brought home a rotund little bundle of neediness, fumbling and stumbling over myself just to get it out of the car and safely inside. I then set it down, took a step back and stared—marveling at its inherent uniqueness and at its wealth of complexities, most of which I had yet to discover. A “Now what?” comment fell from my lips shortly thereafter as I contemplated my next move. Anxiously I paced the floor, studying this newish thing from every angle imaginable—careful not to overlook so much as a dimple or a distinctive feature upon its ruddy face. I then wrestled endlessly with self-doubt and indecision, fully and completely acknowledging the challenges that lay ahead.

At once, I also considered the endless potential this wonder of wonders possessed, pondering the remarkable role I would undoubtedly play in the days to come. I prayed for insight and wisdom, and for the ability to make its spirit glow and its face shine brighter than bright. I loved and nurtured it unconditionally, shaped and molded it tenderly yet purposefully, pouring forth every single ounce of knowledge, creativity and patience I could muster, in hopes that one day my little pumpkin would stand on my doorstep straight and tall, illuminating my world forevermore. A beacon in the night for all who would pass.

But no one ever told me there would be muck in the middle—a slippery, slimy mass of gloppage with which I have had to contend, time and again, in order to move forward. My hands don’t lie. They’ve been mired deep within this monstrous task for an eternity. And it shows. I am worn and weary, doused with sticky remnants of the chore. There have been a multitude of tricky corners to navigate with precision and grace, and unforeseen lumps and bumps to address along this winding path of growth and development. Countless hours have been spent scooping out and whittling away that which is undesirable and stubbornly rooted—the gunk which would surely detract from inner beauty.

Desperately, I have sought the counsel of others. I’ve searched long and hard for guidance—for some sort of pattern to follow so that I could avoid a minefield of mistakes and make the right impression in the end. Heaven forbid I mismanage so much as a solitary stroke of my efforts.

What I find both completely frustrating and strangely wonderful about the whole process, however, is that despite the planning and the commitment and the intensity with which I have approached it all, the end result is virtually unknown until I lay down my tools, step back from my work and light the flame within. Only then will I learn how well I’ve done my job—when my pumpkinish creation stands before me, glowing on its own amidst a sea of ink. Mere glimpses of what will be are all I have been afforded along the way. But glimpses, nonetheless.

Happy Halloween to all those makers of little jack-o’-lanterns, whose work is truly a labor of love and whose efforts are worthy of high praise—regardless of the outcome.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comPuuuurfect Pancakes

PREPARATION TIME: Significantly longer than it takes to prepare entrée without a feline helper—or without assistance from children drunk with amusement over said feline and his asinine antics.

SERVES: As many poor souls who dare to partake—despite knowing all the facts.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup dry Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix

¾ cup milk

1 T oil

1 egg

Dash of saliva, eau de pussycat

Tuft or twenty of black fur (see above)

Trace of cat breath (don’t ask)

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine dry pancake mix and milk in a bowl. Set aside on counter. Instruct children not to blow on flour-like heap or to stir clumps of milky mixture with their fingers—no matter how tempting that might be. Search high and low for oil and fresh egg, employing great care not to trip over children or ravenous cat in the process. Set egg and oil on counter and begin search for measuring spoon. Warn children (hand on hip and finger wagging is optional) not to spin or juggle egg—no matter how tempting that might be.

Become thoroughly engrossed in some inane activity like talking on the phone (with husband who SHOULD be home helping with dinner), checking e-mail or responding to 324th child-generated question of the day. Set table. End activities and return to pancake disaster-in-the-making. Work self into frenzy upon sighting cat on counter with head totally immersed in bowl. Throw both hands up in the air and then on top of head (hair pulling is optional) while giving children patented incredulous how-could-you-NOT-tell-me-he-was-in-the-batter?!! type of look.

Really go ballistic when eye-contact is made with little black bastard, now abundantly bedecked from nose to tip of whiskers with flour/milk mixture. Begin fuming profusely from the ears when cat nonchalantly blinks and licks his lips as if to say, “It’s simply marrrrrrvelous.” Bolt in the direction of furry four-legged miscreant, screaming louder than when he shattered favorite butter dish and shredded children’s school calendar—just because. Chase wily little demon around the house like a madwoman bent on thrashing his sorry patutie, while simultaneously launching a lengthy and colorful tirade, recounting each and every misdeed for which he was responsible and all that could have possibly been WRONG with the decision to ADOPT said cat. Kick and pummel self repeatedly for having caved-in to kids’ begging and whining for cat, for becoming attached to his fuzzy little face in the first place and for ever thinking his ridiculous pranks were cute.

Catch breath and regain composure while dismissing feelings of utter rage and loathing toward cat. Give up on locating him for the time being. Vow to thrash him next time. Accept the fact that THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME. Return to kitchen. Reassure ashen-faced children that you haven’t killed their pretty new kitty. Instruct them not to repeat the words Mommy shouldn’t have said—no matter how exciting that might be during Show and Tell.

Warm griddle or fry pan to medium-high heat or until a few drops of water sizzle upon contact—with pan or with furrowed brow. Remove tufts of fur from flour/milk mixture. Add remaining ingredients to bowl. Mix well. Convincingly explain that all those silly cat germs—now housed in the batter—will surely be killed once we “…put it on the stove and cook the tar out of it.”

Pour batter onto heated surface (in desired shapes and sizes), ignoring children’s persistent requests to “Make him one, Mommy! Make him one!”

SERVE & ENJOY: Resist the urge to noticeably inspect pancakes for traces of fur, etc. and deny all claims that… “Mr. Binks helped us make pancakes, Mommy! I think I can smell his breath in here!”

Heaven forbid you give him that kind of satisfaction.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comA Little Pregnant

Practically everyone, I’m sure, has heard of Kelly Bottom, the 32-year-old Harrodsburg, Kentucky woman who last month gave birth in her home not knowing she was pregnant. I repeat: NOT KNOWING SHE WAS PREGNANT. For the life of me, I cannot imagine her surprise. Nor can I wrap my mind around the absurdity of such a notion. Translation: I am incapable of envisioning any living creature—save a house plant—claiming to be genuinely unaware of the presence of a 19-inch, 6-pound 15-ounce writhing entity wedged anywhere within. Truly, how does one miss that kind of memo?

Admittedly, I have frequented the Land of Oblivion on numerous occasions, but apparently this woman receives her mail there. Looking back on both of my pregnancies and considering the great multitude of words I could choose to describe them, I’d have to say they were memorable if nothing else. Granted, my most recent one—having resulted in twins with a combined weight of nearly 10 pounds—was perhaps BEYOND MEMORABLE; however I very seriously doubt I could ever fail to notice I was expecting.

More specifically, from Day One every fiber of my being felt pregnant. From my nose to my toes, from my fickle mood to my muddled thoughts, something was decidedly different. Maybe it was my voracious appetite and the fact that I made impossible demands of my husband—for black raspberry milkshakes and filet mignon mostly. In addition, I devoured cottage cheese by the tubful and drove the poor man to distraction with my incessant (and sometimes hostile) pleas for the curdy wonder. “Pull the van over NOW!” I once insisted in a sleepy little town that thankfully had a mom and pop grocery store, wedged amid a cluster of row homes. “GET ME SOME COTTAGE CHEESE BEFORE I DIE!” I ordered. The weirdish cravings alone (and especially when they were coupled with bouts of belligerence) would have served as a little red flag regarding the very real possibility of pregnancy, methinks.

Another obvious sign had to have been my intolerably acute sense of smell which caused me to retch if I happened to breeze by anyone who had given up deodorant for Lent (read: pretty much anything off the Putrid Scale made me retch). Moreover, my body was a raging inferno day and night—even in the dead of winter. Furthermore, I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy dwelling on this fact, not to mention my aching feet, breasts and back—wishing like crazy said horribleness would leave me and instead torment some other wretched soul on the planet. Worse yet, I couldn’t sleep comfortably no matter how many pillows I jammed beneath my ever-expanding belly—the unwieldy mass of flesh I clutched and cradled with every toss and turn as if it were some sort of monstrous growth, separate from myself, that I had to hoist with my hands in order to move anywhere. Perhaps this was an even MORE apparent sign of impending parenthood.

Indeed, in the nothing-will-fit-me-but-a-circus-tent stage of my pregnancy, my enormity became difficult to ignore. It was as if I had swallowed the Dominican Republic whole, but only because the panhandle of Texas was unavailable. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t tie my own shoes nor could I see my feet, which I found profoundly disturbing and yet, strangely amusing. Then I happened upon the day (which will forever live in infamy) during which I couldn’t fasten my seatbelt had I been convinced that the fate of the entire world hinged upon my success. My belly was simply too large. As I recall, it was a moot point because I couldn’t reach the pedals anyway, having been forced to move the seat back in order to stuff my sorry self between the seat and the steering wheel. At that juncture in time, driving became something I used to do. Yet another sign, I’d surmise.

Apparently I wasn’t the only individual who took note of my newly adopted Behemoth-like qualities. It’s rumored there was a twisted little pool at work in which people bought chances on my final weigh-in, although I suspect that guessing my girth would have been more of a challenge. At any rate, it’s likely the pool-at-work thing would have led me to question thoughts I might have previously dismissed about unexplained weight gain and/or a sudden proclivity toward rotundness. Or at least I would hope so.

Another not-so-subtle indicator, for me anyway, would have been the impossible-to-ignore, round-the-clock, profusion of activity taking place within the swell of my belly. That said, waves of movement were evident throughout the latter part of my pregnancy, ranging from tiny flutters here and there to giant undulations rippling across my entire midsection. More specifically, when Thing One or Thing Two shifted position, it was as if the earth had moved. Of course, it was insanely fascinating to watch, too, and I recall parking myself on the couch so that the peanut gallery that had gathered could witness my freakish sideshow firsthand. Elbows distinctly flashed, as did knees and a flurry of tiny feet. “Kewl,” my oldest daughter mouthed again and again, struck by the wondrous stirrings within.

All things considered, I still struggle mightily with the Kentucky woman’s pregnancy-related oblivion. Translation: I’m beyond skeptical and fast approaching contemptuous.

A bit envious, too. There, I said it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the days of being as big as a house).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

www.melindawentzel.comThe Purple of Penance

It’s time to decorate Easter eggs—an age-old tradition symbolizing new life. An activity infused with color, the pungent aroma of vinegar and great swells of kid-inspired, eggshell-adorning creativity, all in the name of celebrating the long-awaited rebirth of the land. By contrast, I’ve been celebrating the rebirth of my stupidity.

More specifically, one of my toes—henceforth known as THE TOE—stupidly embraced this glorious festival of dyes and dippings, having adopted a whole host of hues this past week ranging from a lovely pool of blue/black at its base to the deepest and most profound infusion of magenta at its northern most tip—perfectly suited for the Lenten season, I’m told. The purple of penance.

My heathens, as expected, were beside themselves with glee upon learning of my unfortunate and infinitely obtuse shower-related toe incident (i.e. the whacking of said digit on the chair-like entity contained within, followed almost instantaneously by a profusion of swelling and an imbuement of color). “Kewl, Mom! It’s purplish and shiny and it has a really interesting texture!”

Yes, my third-grader used the word texture in a disturbingly appropriate manner. She also touched my toe. They both touched it. Again and again—compelled to poke and prod the bulbous head of my pitiful toe, thoroughly mesmerized by its curious and ever-changing medley of colors and reveling in its freakishly smooth feel. That said, it is perhaps the most repulsive-looking appendage on the planet. But it’s colorful. I’ll give it that. Just in time for Easter and its feast of pigmentation.

Barring divine intervention, however, I’ll likely be skipping Maundy Thursday’s foot-washing ceremony at my church, a spiritually stirring event I had planned to attend during Holy Week, that is, until THE TOE became such a huge and hideous issue. Indeed, it is a shameful spectacle and likely symbolic of the many and varied flaws present in my character. Besides, the mere thought of allowing someone to touch it—even someone who would exert the utmost of care and sensitivity given my sorrowful situation—makes me writhe in pain. Then again, my kids’ relentless pawing has been no picnic and somehow I’ve tolerated that.

I’ve also tolerated a vat of their foolishness.

Needless to say, Frick and Frack have been consumed with all that relates to my wretched toe of late, demanding comprehensive updates on its status the very instant they step off the school bus, insisting that I shed my sock and wave the horrible thing around like a flag. “Show Daddy!” they joyfully instruct. “It’ll gross him out!” Of course, I fear that one day soon THE TOE will surface in someone’s creative writing assignment, much to my chagrin and to their teachers’ collective horror. My weirdish children have even gone so far as to compose a song about my unsightly appendage. Tchaikovsky would be proud.

But not me so much. I’m embarrassed. And ungainly. And in agony (or some semblance thereof) much of the time. However, it can’t compare to what I felt at the moment of impact. And the sound—the UNSPEAKABLY HORRIBLE SOUND that reverberated all around when the bone actually snapped—made me slightly sickish within that tiny window of time sandwiched between the realization of what a stupid, stupid thing I had done and the onset (read: the MONUMENTAL EXPLOSION) of excruciating pain. Even still, I’m not quite sure which made me feel worse—knowing of my stupidity or suffering its ill effects.

As time goes on (and in my less-than-expert medical opinion), I presume THE TOE will not only heal, but undergo an impressive transformation of color, progressing from its current purplish state to various (and no doubt, vile) shades of green, yellow and, eventually, to the suggestion of ecru. With any luck, the nuance of crookedness it has adopted in the interim will abate as well. Otherwise it’s likely my kids will feel compelled to sing (and write!) about THE CROOKED TOE, serving as yet another reminder of my idiocy.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (with THE TOE).

Copyright 2010 Melinda L. Wentzel

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