If you’re a regular reader of Trace of Whimsy, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the late author, Erma Bombeck. I laugh til I hurt when reading her books; her 1985 “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” is probably my all-time favourite comic relief. Her books are not lengthy, but each one can take me a month to read because I can’t get through more than two pages at a time without collapsing into helpless, unbridled, gasping snorts. Erma exposed the funny in the everyday experiences of parenting – from carpools to play dates to family conflicts.
Like the rest of us, she stumbled through child-raising with equal parts screw-ups, small victories and deeply satisfying moments. Erma writes about the “thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humour and hurt.” From my experience, Erma had parenting figured out, as much as one can, anyhow.
If I had the opportunity to chat with Erma today about parenting, I know we’d seize upon common ground: dirty shoes on white carpets, surprise school cupcake days, arguments about curfews and borrowing the car – and more. But I think we’d both agree that parenting is a wild, exhilarating ride.
As a shout-out to my two spectacular sons, Craig and Graeme, I draw from Erma’s prolific collection of quotables for an exclusive conversation about parenting.
Me: Erma, I’m off-the-hook terrified of spiders. Irrational as arachnophobia may be, there’s nothing I’ve been able to do to calm my extreme reaction to spotting one. So during a middle of the night feed of my newborn baby, I spotted a wolf spider – menacing, big as a hockey puck. I reacted as any normal new mother would: I screamed. And then I threw Craig onto the shag carpet. I’ve felt guilty ever since. Not about the shag rug – it was the ‘80s for pity’s sake – but about tossing my son like some dog-eared frisbee.
Erma: ”Someone once threw me a small, brown, hairy kiwi fruit and I threw a wastebasket over it until it was dead.”
Me: Sure, but Erma, you’re missing the point… I threw my baby on the ground.
Erma: “Guilt, the gift that keeps on giving.”
Me: I’ve always liked my hot food served super hot. I guess it’s not too surprising that my younger son’s first word wasn’t “dada”, “mama” or “doggie”. Nope. The first utterance out of Graeme’s mouth was “ott!!!” No “h”, and lots of exclamation marks kind of sums it up. I feel kind of bad that I burned his delicate tongue with nuclear applesauce.
Erma: “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
Me: Ok, thanks, I feel a bit better. But there’s more. When I was a stay-at-home mom I was seldom at home. I’d take the kids to a beach, a park, for play dates or I’d just drive around aimlessly to get them to fall asleep. Consequently, my house always looked like a bomb exploded.
Erma: “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”
Me: You’re saying it’s time to let that messy house guilt thing go?
Erma: “My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.”
Me: Consider the shame vanquished! So, is it wrong to enjoy practical jokes at your kids’ expense? Long before Ashton Kutcher ripped off Candid Camera, we punk’d our kids. For instance, we told Graeme that bales of hay wrapped in white plastic was a marshmallow farm. And at Christmas, we’d wrap gifts in Birks boxes, or high-end electronic boxes just to relish the expression of dismay when they realized that the prize within was socks or underwear. Tee-hee.
Erma: “Thanks to my mother, not a single cardboard box has found its way back into society. We receive gifts in boxes from stores that went out of business twenty years ago.”
Me: Can we talk about kids and driving? Craig assumed when he got his driver’s license it came with the family car. That little key was the source of huge arguments.
Erma: “Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth.”
Me: Throughout Graeme’s childhood, I don’t think we ever celebrated his birthday on his actual birthday in March. We just kept postponing it due to various things until one year, we held his party in June.
Erma: “One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is.”
Me: Exactly! It only seems fair: when I asked my sons which dinners they remembered from their growing up years, Craig said the chicken pot-pie from Save-On. Graeme said Meat Lovers from Panago.
Erma: “It was only a matter of time before the Family Dinner passed into history and fast foods took over. I knew its days were numbered the day our youngest propped my mouth open with a fork and yelled into it, “I want a cheeseburger and two fries and get it right this time.”
Me: While I’m admitting to shameful parenting acts, may as well share this memory, too. I cringe in horror when I think about the river rafting expedition we took when Graeme was 10. He was such a little guy that there wasn’t a wet suit that fit him. He barely met the height requirements. The raft operator positioned him at the front and called him the “hood ornament.” When we hit the rapids, I watched terrified and helpless as he almost vaulted from the raft. What mother puts her young son in harm’s way like that?
Erma: “Have you any idea how many children it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen. Three. It takes one to say what light and two more to say I didn’t turn it on.”
Me: Erma, your response has nothing to do with almost losing your kid in the churning rapids.
Erma: You’d prefer “A child needs your love most when he deserves it least”?
Me: No, we’re the ones who don’t deserve his love for that boner move.”
Erma: “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”
Me: Erma, both our sons moved out when they were barely 20. It seemed too young to me, but they’ve both managed exceedingly well without me knocking on the bathroom door demanding to know what they’re up to, and reminding them how to replace the toilet tissue. And it’s heartening and marvelous and wonderful to see that their moral compasses point due north. I’m happy they’re happy. But, can’t lie: I miss the noise, the messiness of it all, the loving and laughing that bound us together. Any words of wit or wisdom for this melancholy mom?
Erma: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”
Me: Thanks, Erma. Anything else?
Erma: “Never accept a drink from a urologist.”
FEATURE PHOTO: Graeme, the “hood ornament” on a family rafting trip on the Adams River (after we’d resurfaced). Craig directly behind him.
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