Click any letter for a look at my prize-winning essay from the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. You don't even have to buy a vowel.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Taking the Bait

“An outing with the children can be a pleasant and enjoyable event.” I smiled encouragingly.

“If they’re sedated.” Dad thinks I can't hear him when he mumbles behind the newspaper. I couldn't help but notice that he'd circled all the advertisements for houses for sale over the state line.

“The thing to remember, Dad, is that with children, the theory “Less is More” definitely applies. "Just remember that you’re in control.”

Dad, a doting grandfather, was preparing to take the boys on a fishing trip to the lake. He is perfectly willing to do it again, he says, just as soon as the bandages come off.

“The thing to remember,” he said steadily, peering at me over the top of his glasses, “is that I was fishing thirty years before you could put a worm on the hook without doing the boogie woogie.”

“Well, this should be right up your alley, then”

“Last time I took them fishing, I spent six hours cutting my fishing tackle down out of trees. I have enough gear in that old pine tree to open up a tackle shop.” Dad shot me a “you owe me big” look and headed out the door behind the boys.

Later on, he whiled away the time in the Emergency Room jotting down notes to remember. I blame the painkillers for the noticeable lack of feeling. Here are his notes:

1. Baiting Your Hook

The thing to remember when taking young boys fishing is not to use live bait, unless it’s live corn. Whining and crying can be avoided by a bit of creative forethought. Besides, hysterics frighten the fish as well as the children.

There are any number of products that can be successfully used for bait if they actually make it as far as the water. Jerky strips, corn, cat chow, and peanut butter sandwiches all work well for pond fish as it is all quite easily recognizable with no “ooky” parts. They also go on the hook easily with minimum damage to small fingers or bare feet. A simple gold #8 Eagle Claw in the big toe will help to convince him to wear proper gear, such as shoes, at the lake. Shouting @#*^%! does little good except to get you in trouble when both boys sing out @#*^%! upon returning home to Mother.

2. Casting Your Line

The thing to remember about casting is that once you release the button, the line will actually leave the reel. If your rod is pointed toward the lake, the hook will drop neatly into water with a satisfying plop. Likewise, if you release the button as the rod tip aims pointedly at the tree directly overhead, your bob will direct the line around random twigs and branches and your hook will secure itself into hard wood at least ten feet out of your reach. Let me stress again that screaming @#*^%! will produce sentiment likely to be repeated in front of undesirable people, such your wife who will punish you by refusing to make supper in order to teach you a lesson.

3. Catching a Fish

No matter how hard you try to prevent it, one or more of the children may actually catch a fish. Be forewarned that the child will jerk the line wildly and reel the fish in frantically, responding to any well meaning advice with an air of defiance.

“Keep your rod tip down,” you offer calmly.

“If you don’t stop yelling at me, I’m telling Mom,” he bellows, rod tip pointing erratically at a flock of wild geese overhead.

Once the fish has survived the trip to shore, your little fisherman will refuse any contact. “Take it off the hook, Pop,” he’ll squeal.

If it’s a catfish, calmly show him how to hold the fish under the two needle-sharp pointy fins so as not to be lanced indiscriminately by an unthinking fish. Little Fisherman will disregard all advice and reach for the gaping mouth of the fish, impale himself on the point and jerk rapidly, flinging the fish in your general direction. Immediate action is required. Scream @#*^%!

Dad’s notes end at this point. I figure the ambulance arrived not long after. All I know is that when I visited him in the hospital, he requested a large meal before he went home, and his chart listed his given name as @#^%.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Top Ten Memorable Things About Being Pregnant

(I’m going from memory here. This is History, not Live at Five.)

1. Because you’re not famous, you don’t have a “bump.” You have a baby.

2. You finally have cleavage. And it’s not in the back!

3. You get to decorate the nursery – but nobody will let you lift, paint, or use harsh cleaners. Sweet. Interior design without the gruntwork. It's like ordering dinner from the Martha Stewart cookbook and instructing Martha to be gentle with the egg whites.

4. You cry over sentimental things like Budweiser commercials. Or because they’ve run out of Choco Tacos at the corner store.

5. The gas station before your exit has the bathroom key ready for you every morning at 7:30. And they remove the chain and tire iron it was originally attached to and replace them with a ribbon and a cookie.

6. Cravings – Like who doesn’t cross four lanes of rush hour traffic to peel into the Quick Stop for a Slim Jim?

7. Stressful things like, say, naps make you want to take a nap.

8. Getting so accustomed to giving urine samples, you feel the urge to empty your bladder every time you go down the Dixie Cup aisle at the grocery store. Sometimes you feel the urge after it’s too late.

9. Lying on your back for nine months like fried bologna on an open-face sandwich.

10. Your belly button pops out like the timer on a Butterball turkey when the baby’s done.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thirteen (A Reminiscence at Graduation Time)

Having babies is rather like bringing home a carton of eggs. You find a safe, temperature-controlled environment for them and you handle them carefully for the first couple of weeks, but after that they lose their freshness, begin to smell and you just wish you’d gone to the Waffle House and let somebody else worry with the details. At the very least you should have invested in Egg Beaters instead, and you have that sinking feeling that neither of you will age gracefully.

My niece and I both have children who are given to food fights, who exist on a diet of cold cereal and Oreos, who run screaming through the house naked at bathtime, and who wear their favorite shirt until the animal logo withers and dies of old age. Her son is three years old. Mine is thirteen. Here is a child who went to bed with Ozzy Nelson’s personality on the last day he was twelve and woke up the next morning as Ozzy Ozborne. Our lives went straight from Happy Days to Survivor: Hormone Breakout. Whoever first said that thirteen is an unlucky number must have had a new teenager in the hut.

It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to teenagers. I’m perilously close to exhausting all reasonable excuses why my oldest child shouldn’t be allowed to operate a moving vehicle. Before long the state will license him to drive a car, which will terminate my rights as a citizen by turning my pursuit of happiness into the impossible dream.

I’ve grown accustomed to walking alone like an escapee from Happy Valley Farms when we go to the mall. I know not to wear clothing designed to draw attention to myself, such as jeans that come all the way to my waist or blouses that are large enough to camouflage my behind. I’ve been trained not throw my hand up in a friendly greeting or act like I’m a blood relative if I happen to see my child at a football game, and I know not to say the word potty in public.

At least with my older son, I was given fair warning. With Mutant Human 2, the transition was like Dr. Jekyll and Martha Stewart, the jailhouse years. At school he took it personally if asked to participate in undesirable group activities, such as lunch. Teachers who expected him to complete homework assignments EVERY day, and who indulged in summer reading lists that didn’t involve Japanese animation were trolls. When subjected to standardized testing, he hyperventilated, experienced Suddenly Sullen disease, and threatened to move to Montana and indulge in steer wrestling.

I don’t know if it’s his perpetual smirk or the 360-degree eye roll when I speak that barbecues my potato chips. Perhaps it’s the nagging idea that he managed to restructure my nervous system into an alternate design made from rolls of bubble wrap. And he’s popping all the bubbles.

I’m comforted by the rumors that there are parents, alive in captivity, who survived the teenage years. Sure, a great many of them now have facial tics and are given to muttering to themselves and staring blankly into space for long periods of time, but they’re alive, hold responsible jobs, and can open their own mail. I am personally acquainted with parents who know not to wear spandex at the beach or brown socks with Birkenstocks, who can successfully record the message for the answering machine, and who can figure out by themselves how to pay at the pump when they get gas for the car, providing they have chosen the gas option instead of saving their pension for retirement.

They say if I make it through the next ten years, I’m home free. They also say that the worst part of having a teenager is the bizarre Hulk-like mood swings. Of course, I’ve heard that with hormone therapy and proper rest, I’ll get over it.

But I have to wonder if there’s money to be made in steer wrestling.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm Not Hip

The style these days is for young people to wear hiphuggers. From what I’ve seen, these pants don’t just hug; they hang on for dear life. It’s not that I mind the lowcut styles. It’s just that when I see that much of a child’s behind, I have to fight the urge to puff it with a cloud of baby powder and slap a diaper on it.

Ever the hitchhiker on the fashion superhighway, I ventured into the local Hip Bones R Us to give the new style a try. Sure, I wore hiphuggers when I was a teenager, but that was two children and a chocolate laden post-divorce feeding frenzy ago. Maybe now I need something a little more forgiving. I don't want to give the impression that my underwear might spontaneously combust when I walk across a room.

I came out of the dressing room like an American Idol contestant that sang Happy Birthday to Simon in the key of X. When the saleslady cocks her head to one side and calls you Sweetie like you’re the last one left on the Atkins diet, you know something’s wrong. I was going to call my husband for support, but my cell phone was wedged under what I think used to be my hip bone. My appendix buzzed every time I missed a call.

The belly shirt I rolled on with the outfit did nothing to hide my personal information from random passers by. The janitor at the mall now knows I had two emergency C-Sections and an unfortunate run-in with a weed eater, and you can Mapquest my stretch marks on the Internet.

It seems to me it would be a good deal more flattering if the shirts were hip huggers and the trousers were belly pants. Then I could have an extra muffin for breakfast without tipping off everyone at the office as to how many poppy seeds were involved.

I’ve read that fashions are designed for size zero runway models who exist on soy shavings and bottled water and who have legs longer than a New York traffic jam. If so, I can see why these pants are all the rage. It's road rage.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You Might Be A Parent If. . .

You have ever stood toe to toe with another adult at Christmas time, clutching the last action figure on the shelf at Wal-Mart and spewing spittle into one another’s face, because that action figure is second only to "Surprises" on The List.

You have ever entertained ten cake-throwing preschoolers wearing party hats in your living room so that Johnny will have warm birthday memories and extra presents.

You have ever sat through three showings of Pokemon, The Movie because it’s Precious Child’s favorite film.

You have ever stood in line during your lunch hour to exchange the Spiderman bookbag for the Iron Man bookbag because NOBODY has a Spiderman bookbag. (Feel free to substitute Barney, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder or your own animated choice.)

You have ever taken time off work to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Parent’s Lunch Day at second grade.

You have ever thought the sixth grade band played the most beautiful and spirited version of Frosty the Snowman that has ever been witnessed the world over.

You have ever worked overtime to make up for the time you were late taking Billy’s lunchbox to school because he left it in your car and you know they’re having ugly food in the school cafeteria.

You have ever climbed into the driver’s seat of your car only to come in contact with the business end of GI Joe’s assault weapon.

You have ever told one child not to “look at,” “touch,” or “smile at” another child?

You have ever uttered the words “Because I Said So!” because if you said what you were really thinking it would scar the listener--and bind your psyche with guilt--for life.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bathroom Safari

“Morning, Mom. Don’t go in the bathroom.”

Nothing says Rise and Shine like a warning not to use the facilities.

“What’s wrong?” My early morning detection system could use a little work. I totally failed to miss the large “Do Not Disturb” sign resting on a stack of towels the size and shape of the Statue of Liberty. We huddled in a mass and peered in at the terrycloth statue on the checkerboard tile.

“Um, there’s a creature under there.”

“Oh.” My intelligence meter doesn’t top out until after my morning muffin. If my IQ points rose as fast as my blood sugar, I’d be smarter than a fifth grader every morning before the sun came up.

As I blinked to focus, I made out a crude but clever early detection system rigged up in the bathroom. The Towel of Liberty was balancing one of my crystal goblets on the peak. If anything in that statue moved, the Waterford would be water under the bridge faster than you could dam it.

Son Two, the Bugophobe, takes after me. There could be anything from a honey bee in pre-sweetened larva stage to a winged Komodo Dragon under that towel, and the reaction would be the same. No need for facilities—all bodily functions go on automatic pilot.

“What is it?” I’m trying to conjure a worst case scenario. If best case is of the Cricket Is Our Friend variety that I’ve bested in the hundred meters dash before, I won't panic until I hear chirping over the household intercom. But worse case, which includes any type of predatory animal or insect capable of defending itself with teeth, claws, stinger, or obnoxious Lysol-relling odor, would find me dialing 911 from a payphone inside the Animal Control Office.

So far, I’m thinking that towel is going to stay put for the eight and a half hours it will take for Bill to get home. I’m considering hanging out a sign that says “National Monument” and charging admission.

Bug Boy is not big on accurate news reporting. “I’m not sure. It was huge. And it looked mad.”

Great. An irate creature possibly under the influence of growth hormones under a few flimsy towels in my bathroom. How long until it gnawed through the barricade and launched a Rambo-like manhunt for the person responsible for its untimely entrapment and incarceration. It probably had some sort of advanced tracking system embedded in its tentacles.

Oh the positive side, I didn’t have to outrun the creature, only the other person in the race, whom I felt I could outdistance if a natural disaster or a free-flying chair impeded his progress. I was eyeing the furniture for ease of transport, when the goblet shook. We looked at each other.

Out in the yard, we continued the conversation.

“Geez, Mom,” Son Two rubbed his shin. “Why’d you hit me with the recliner? I almost dropped the grill.”

“You were trying to trip me up.”

He dropped the baseball bat and the laptop. “I was just trying to save some of the valuables in case the monster wiped out the house. You know, like Godzilla did to Tokyo.”

About that time, Son One called to us from the bathroom window.

“The coast is clear. You can come in now.”

“Did you kill it?” I imagined crafting shoes for the entire family from the monster’s hide.

“No, I let her out.”

“Her? What was it?”

“It was a lady bug.”

“A lady bug?” I glared at the Bugmeister.

“Mom, that may have been a bug,” he sniffed indignantly. “But she was no lady.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Well, she landed on the jelly glass by the sink."

"Gross, but okay."

But she never even touched the crystal.”

That's my boy. You can't judge a ladybug by her spots, but anybody who rejects lead crystal can just fly away home.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ode To My TP

(In which I've discovered that toilet paper that is safe for your septic tank is harmful to your. . .hygiene.)

New Septic Safe Scott Tissue
How could you do this thing
Now why I try to tear you
You turn into one long string.

You faint at the sight of moisture
Afraid of a simple task
You turn into shreds and crumbles
Unable to do what I ask.

I’m bidding farewell to a good friend.
A valiant soldier of old
For now he’s no use in the end
And just a wet blanket to hold.

You’ve been in my family for eons
A giant in many lands
But now that you’re safer for septics
You’re a terrible danger to hands!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pole Bending

That old “touch your toes” thing isn’t working for me anymore, so I thought I’d find a new exercise program. It isn’t that I’m rejecting my toes; it’s just that I rarely see them. We don’t hang out in the same neighborhood any more and have little or nothing in common. So in the interest of personal conditioning and self improvement, I decided to swing with the new fitness craze: Pole Dancing. My family was excited for me.

“Absolutely not.” Sons One and Two answered in harmony. They haven’t agreed on anything since the great “Whose hiney put the hole in the living room wall?” debate of ’05 and they pick now to show solidarity.

“But everybody’s doing it.”

“Everybody’s having hip replacements, too. Tell that to your insurance company. Can you say deductible?”

That settled the matter for me. If the boys didn’t approve, it was just what I needed. I searched the Internet to find some local lessons.

However, I didn’t want to take a class without trying it out privately first. I’m not exactly Dasher or Dancer when it comes to the ladies aerobics class at the local YMCA; I figured I’d better work on some moves before I shinnied up a metal pole in a room full of Vixens. I slipped on my laundry day gym shorts, a clear violation of the rules of fashion etiquette for public exposure, and sauntered down to the elementary school playground where an old volleyball pole cemented into a tire stood guard over some dandelions in a sunny corner.

The videos I had seen on You Tube showed sleek, gazelle-like women, frolicking delicately around a shining silver pole like a lady’s dress of filmy chiffon blowing around her legs in a gentle breeze. Thinking chiffon, I circled the pole feeling a zephyr stirring strands of hair around my upturned face, and grasped the circumference of the pole in one hand as I swung my legs up into the Fireman’s Position.

That pole had been baking in the Southern summer sun long enough to cook a turkey, two dozen yeast rolls, and a sweet potato casserole.

And cook a turkey it did. The fat grabber treads of my thighs stuttered across the pole, popping like an old clutch under the foot of a novice driving student. A line of blisters the size and shape of a Tibetan mountain range sprung to life on my twirling hand and my thighs had the grill marks of a well-turned sirloin.

Releasing the pole is called the dismount, even if it’s accidental. I let go of the pole with a better understanding of the importance of the proper attire for pole dancing.

On the whole, it’s not a good idea to let go suddenly, even in case of trauma, particularly when wearing the type of shorts that maintain their position on the body with a drawstring. If you have elected to practice on an old volleyball pole that sports a hook whose purpose it is to hold up volleyball net, the idea is especially unfortunate.

Now I know what gymnasts feel like in the middle of the somersault-handspring section of their floor routine. If the Olympic committee had been on hand at that moment, I would have secured a spot as a favorite on Team USA. When I landed, I looked through my knees at the pole, spinning that old tire in circles and grinned. At least if I got a workout, I gave that wretched thing one, too.

But the worst part was that the blasted thing looked better in those old gym shorts than I did.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Check Me Out

I’m of the school that believes that as long as there are self-check registers in the grocery store, our quota for terrorists has been met. I’ve had paddle-wielding principals in elementary school that didn’t inspire the fear in my heart that one lone machine with a blank stare and twenty question does when it starts prowling through my personal effects.

However, since I’ve made great strides operating the toaster oven, I thought it might be time to give the self-check ninja one more try. Last time it took the produce boy, a store manager, and a passing grandmother with a customer card and a death wish to get me straightened out. This time it might not be so easy.

I checked ahead and was glad to hear that the manager that helped me the last time was still out on sick leave. Sure, I wish the man well, but anybody who goes all white around the mouth over an innocent mistake shouldn’t be in the people business. And anyway, I paid for those bananas.

I couldn’t help but wonder, though. Weren’t these touch screens a breeding ground for the kind of bacteria that closes up my head like the entrance to a nuclear reactor the day they all notice a funny smell? Or did they install touch screens on these things to make sure they’ve got a good set of fingerprints in case I make a run on the plastic bags and Tic Tacs? And couldn’t that midget behind me in the clever Boy Scout disguise lift my prints so that he could assume my place on the lower half of all the credit reports in the free world? Well, they’re not getting the goods on me without a fight.

“What’s that?” my husband asked as I snapped on my rubber gloves with the care and precision of a proctologist.

“Rubber gloves.” I picked up my broccoli and waved it at the screen like I was conducting Beethoven’s fifth for a vegan orchestra.

“What are they for?”

“Identity theft. And the common cold.”

“I didn’t know they were related. Have you alerted the government and the American Medical Association about your amazing breakthrough?”

“They already know.”

“Can we expect a Nobel Prize?”

“You’re being sarcastic. They say that people can lift your fingerprints off these machines and use them to steal your identity.”

“I don’t think Grandma Moses there has a fingerprint kit in her apron pocket.”

I surreptitiously checked out the Q-Tip of a lady behind us, flipping through Cosmo, white hair glowing softly under the fluorescent lights. She looked harmless enough if you didn’t count the keg of industrial strength prune juice she carried under one arm. If she was hosting a party, I hoped that she had more than a single bathroom in her apartment at the retirement home.

I sighed and peeled off my gloves. “Okay, maybe you’re right. Show me how to work this monster.”

Bill punched a button. The machine greeted us in a voice that passengers on an outer-Mongolion-bound stagecoach could hear without straining. He plopped a large cantaloupe on the scanner with a thud.

“Weight?” the electronic voice bellowed.

I snatched that melon off the scanner so fast it tried to quick dial the Farmer’s Market for assistance. The light above the register started flashing, and the display read, “Wait for cashier assistance” in an insulting font.

About that time my old manager friend walked in. He took in the blinking light, the angry checkout display, and me, holding a ripened cantaloupe like it was a smart bomb and the store was full of the folks in charge of gas prices. Without a word, he threw his name tag and price checker on the floor and ran out of the store so fast the automatic door flapped open and closed like a flasher on New York street corner.

“What’s the matter?” Bill’s brows were drawn together like they’d been shrink wrapped.

“I don’t discuss my weight with anybody who can’t give me a prescription for hormones.”

“Honey, the machine was asking for the weight of the cantaloupe. Not of you.”

“Oh. Perhaps I should explain to the manager when he gets back.” We listened to his car as it squealed past the outdoor furniture display and, dragging a two lawn chairs and a mini-cooler, screeched out of the parking lot.

Bill looked at me and rubbed his head. “How do you scare them off without even speaking?”

“I don’t know,” I answered trying to pull out a piece of plastic that was jammed in the payment slot. “But if he’s after my identity, he’s never going to get it.” With a tug, I pulled half of a mangled card out of the machine so fast I fell against the buggy behind me and squished some lady’s buns.

“Because I just paid for the groceries with your library card.”