How has it taken me until my forty-third year to discover Erma Bombeck?
I was (now-I-see-ever-so!) graciously compared to Erma in a writing group recently and though the name rang a bell, I’d never read any of her work, at least that I’d been aware of. A columnist who wrote twice weekly in her nationally syndicated column, “At Wit’s End,” Erma hilariously described the plight of the suburban housewife and mother of the 60s, 70s and 80s. I’m halfway through a book of her most treasured columns, collected after her death in 1996, and already I’ve laughed (a lot) and cried (a lot) and thought to myself, OMYGOD this woman GETS me. I want to swallow every word she’s written, IMMEDIATELY. But of course, I don’t have time, I have three kids and piles of laundry and lunches to pack. Erma would understand.
She’s real. She’s honest. She’s forthright. She’s funny. And she doesn’t mince her words. But underneath it all, there is love. Love for her children, her husband, her community, her life. I wish she were still alive, I’d send her a letter asking if she’d take me under her wing, along with the millions of other women who wished she could be their soul-sister/mother/grandmother/friend.
Mostly I’m inspired by her bravery. Putting herself out there, her disappointments, her frustrations, her mistakes and her foibles. In doing that, even fifty years later, she gives us young(ish) mothers permission to do the same.
Like this, for example, I needed to read this column this week, after the boys shredded my peony bush and pulled down their pants to fart on me for the umpteenth time, laughing maniacally while doing both (click on the link to hear the whole story!):
No More Oatmeal Kisses--January 29, 1969
A young mother writes: "I know you've written before about the empty-nest syndrome, that lonely period after the children are grown and gone. Right now I'm up to my eyeballs in laundry and muddy boots. The baby is teething; the boys are fighting. My husband just called and said to eat without him, and I fell off my diet. Lay it on me again, will you?"
OK. One of these days, you'll shout, "Why don't you kids grow up and act your age!" And they will. Or, "You guys get outside and find yourselves something to do . . . and don't slam the door!" And they won't.
You'll straighten up the boys' bedroom neat and tidy: bumper stickers discarded, bedspread tucked and smooth, toys displayed on the shelves. Hangers in the closet. Animals caged. And you'll say out loud, "Now I want it to stay this way." And it will.
You'll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn't been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing, and you'll say, "Now, there's a meal for company." And you'll eat it alone.
You'll say, "I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No demolition crews. Silence! Do you hear?" And you'll have it.
No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti. No more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms. No more gates to stumble over at the top of the basement steps. No more clothespins under the sofa. No more playpens to arrange a room around.
No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye movies in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches, rubber bands for ponytails, tight boots or wet knotted shoestrings.
Imagine. A lipstick with a point on it. No baby-sitter for New Year's Eve. Washing only once a week. Seeing a steak that isn't ground. Having your teeth cleaned without a baby on your lap.
No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o'clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape.
Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to heal, no responsibility.
Only a voice crying, "Why don't you grow up?" and the silence echoing, "I did."
I’m not crying. You’re crying.
(But must I embrace the farts for the next eighteen years?! God help me).
Thank you Erma.