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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tales of Toxic Baby Poop

Nothing brings parents together like a discussion of dirty diapers of the dynamic kind. When it comes to Toxic Baby Poop, We Are Family. No matter what gruesome tales are told, we all feel that our own baby would capture the prize in a diaper runneth over derby.

One friend, whose daughter is a new player on the baby poop battlefield wrung her hands (and the blouse she'd just washed out) as we discussed the adventures that come with having a baby. Her husband was no help on the field of battle, she said, because every time he approached the offending area, he would gag and retch, thus making a bigger mess than the original culprit. She had to blindfold him and seal off his nasal passages with a clothespin before he could face the offending creature, which makes it more of a pin the tail on the donkey tournament that a simple task of diapering. I mentioned that she could accept wagers from the neighbors over which household item would be the next to sport a diaper, my guess being the family tabby Bubba, but she did the wise thing and sent hubby to live with his mother until the tyke starts school. All the same, I couldn’t help but recall my first foray into deep doody.

When my oldest son was just a couple of weeks old, we ran into the constipation Wheel of Fortune. The doctor advised a little of the apple/prune juice available for babies. It came in a small, innocent bottle in the baby food section of the grocery store and sported a label bearing a smiling chubby-cheeked chap obviously free of intestinal blockage.

Our little guy found the taste quite agreeable and downed the whole bottle.

All at once the sky grew dark, the ground trembled, and people snatched their children from sandboxes in the back yard as they ran to take cover in their basements. Accompanied by an intestinal drumroll and trumpet blast, a volley of semi-solid ammunition erupted from the baby and coated the family like a factory fresh box of Raisinettes.

Even Bounty wasn’t a quick enough picker upper that day. We just ran the garden hose through the living room and washed the waste outside to fertilize the garden.

Nothing has grown in that patch of ground since.

That first diaper demolition derby was a long time ago. Now that very same baby is a responsible young man with a hearty appetite. And we know the plumber by first name.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lost and Found

I received a call from my son today. Early in the morning. On my cell phone. All indicators that a crisis has risen with the sun and was threatening to bring on gnashing of teeth and rending of garments before breakfast. He’s a wonderful guy, but stress transforms him from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hulk. (Hulk smash toast for getting too brown!)

It’s too early in the day for him to be concerned about the dinner menu, so there must be some other need like, say, the funnies are missing from the newspaper or he’s supposed to have a complete physical before soccer practice that afternoon.

Mothers can’t ignore hysterical children. At least not until they find out if there’s broken bones or missing teeth and whether the crisis is covered by insurance. I thought briefly of hurling the phone into the jaws of an oncoming minivan, but instead pressed the button and faced the mutant.


“Mom, I can’t find my name tag.”

“I can’t find our house on a city map, but I don’t use your minutes.” It’s not that I don’t love the kid, but everything’s a crisis.

“I have to have my name tag to go to work.”

“They can’t tell it’s you from the joyous way you bound through the door in the morning?”

“Mom, it’s not funny.”

“Look son, it’s not like you work in the Oval Office and you’ve accidentally misplaced launch code numbers for the first volley of thermonuclear missiles. You work in a sandwich shop.”

“It’s not a sandwich shop. It’s a sub shop. The best sub shop in town.”

“Well can’t the best sub shop in town afford a new name tag?”

“That’s not the point. I don’t want to look unorganized.”

This from the kid who refers to the pile of T-shirts in the corner of his room as his “spare clothes.” Several generations of dust bunnies have called that pile home and lived a very nice life indeed.

“Have you looked in the dryer? I heard something making that clickety-clunk sound in there this morning.”

“I’ll look. Hold on.”

I paused at a traffic light and studied a man tracking his vacation itenerary on a shiny GPS while I mentally computed the number of minutes my cell phone plan was losing to dryer lint.

A relieved voice in my ear said, “Got it. Thanks, Mom.”

“It’s nothing. I live for these moments. It’s even better than getting AARP rates for my room at the retirement home.


“I said you’re welcome.”

“Oh. You’re the best.”

“Yeah, that’s what they say down at the Piggly Wiggly when I have enough teenage boys in my living room to qualify for gangland activity and I buy enough hamburger to feed them all.”


“Yes, son?”

“That reminds me. What’s for dinner?”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Why Factor

A recent article in Newsweek, a magazine for people who want to appear smart without reading really clever things like, say, Green Eggs and Ham, discusses a study that indicates having children doesn’t make a couple any happier than a couple who has no children to leave the refrigerator door open. Also the childless couple is free to have a nice martini when they get home from work instead of cleaning baby poop out of the blender. (Don't ask; just keep an emergency cash stash that covers the cost of a new blender.)

Which leads to several very important questions; namely, does Amy really read Newsweek? Actually I can’t even make it through Green Eggs and Ham without getting distracted by subplots and theme, but I do get a kick out of the Captain Underpants books, especially the Flip-o-rama on the corners of the pages.

Who said my degree in English wouldn’t come in handy?

There is an obvious flaw in this Child McStudy, which assumes that we have children in the first place so that they will make us happy. That’s like buying bait to eat at the seafood buffet.

So why have kids, if the result is a house full of naked Barbies when the pastor comes to visit or painful Lego injuries when strolling barefoot through the shag?

We have children to remember our address and phone number when we fill out registration forms at the Social Security office, to bring us our glasses from the bedroom when it would take the jaws of life to extract us from the couch, and to bring a diaper when the baby/grandbaby/neighbor’s kid/unhousebroken puppy needs a change and leaving him alone would bring the Social Services SWAT team and/or PETA people repelling down the chimney.

I’m not saying I haven’t had good times with my children. I have a son with a flair for entertainment who keeps us amused by using the living room furniture as an obstacle course. He makes the living room look like a pinball machine as he ricochets from wall to floor lamp to desk to invisible air molecules on his way through to the kitchen. Of course, this particular skill tends toward the expensive side when you consider the medical bills. Even Lloyd’s of London won’t insure this kid.

We could derive a good deal of glee from the act of punishing the children--except all the good punishments are illegal and cause waxy yellow buildup or require harsh chemicals, like soap.
All the low-level punishments; grounding, withholding phone privileges, and storing away video games merely results in our own discomfiture, as children seem to multiply when underfoot, and the whining index increases throughout the house. After a while even the children get restless.

So are parents happy? Not every second. But there’s not a greater satisfaction than seeing a child’s face light up when you walk into his classroom with a tray full of Batman birthday cupcakes, when you get an A on a Botany project that helped you learn in a serious way how poison ivy can affect your personal life, or when you see a young man walk across the stage to accept a high school diploma that it took a village—and some late night tutoring sessions and heavy-duty prayers—to secure.

Just don’t forget to make one of those prayers the Parent’s Prayer—“Please be sure that he grows up to have a child just like him.”

But don't forget. He's going to ask you to babysit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stick With It

I’m at that penultimate point in my life when I send out engraved announcements saluting my accomplishment if I should happen to recall where I parked my car at the mall. It also a major victory when I manage to push the little red pill through the blister pack, figure out how to coax coffee from the automatic drip pot, or get up from the floor without requiring the assistance of two kitchen chairs, a large dog, and an emergency responder team.

One of my greatest triumphs is singlehandedly locating my remaining pair of eyeglasses, a clever piece of accessory-type tomfoolery that hides in the laundry basket, behind the sugar canister, or on top of my head. They are trifocals, a fancy optical term that means I can’t read the newspaper through three lenses just as well as I can’t read through one. The only things I really need them for is to convince the nice policeman that I’m wearing my corrective lenses just like the troubled lady in my drivers license picture, and to locate the yellow adhesive notes that I’ve planted around the house like daisies to tell me what I’m supposed to do and when I’m supposed to do it.

My house looks like a butter factory exploded with all those little yellow pats of color stuck everywhere. At the office, I keep a row of notes affixed to my computer monitor to help me remember to accomplish important tasks (Becky, lunch, 11:45) as well as trivial ones (Boss meeting with District Superintendent,10:30).

Once, a younger, self-assured man who still stands up very straight without making noises reminiscent of a movie theatre corn popping system in action, informed me that post-it notes were no substitute for a more organized planning system. I agree.

And if I could afford a butler who would stand smartly at the door and drop my keys in my hand before I got to the car, fill my travel mug with whatever liquid I’ve been warming in the microwave all morning, and remind me which direction I should turn out of the driveway to get to the bank, I would dwell in a special kind of Nirvana.

Perhaps one day when I’m digging in the garden I will unearth a treasure trove of forgotten doubloons that I could use to acquire such a man. Until then, a sticky note on the front door will have to do the trick.

As for the know-it-all who thought my post-its were past due? I’m looking forward to the day when he has to explain to his employer that he missed the important meeting because he transposed the dates in his daily planner and confused his proctology exam with his performance appraisal.

Now that's a happy ending.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The O's Have It

The New Yorker recently got in big fat trouble for splashing a picture on the magazine's cover displaying a dashing Barack Obama decked out in the loose robes of an Arab, rapping knuckles with tough-love-Barbie Mrs. Obama who’s rocking haute terrorist couture.

Now I don’t keep up with the goings on of men generally, since I have basically no interest in how many channels I can watch simultaneously on television, but if dressing my husband in matching hat and gown will get me a tank of gas I can afford, I’ll be fighting the crowds in the Stout Ladies Department at Wal-Mart to find Bill Dear a suitable outfit.

Other than that, I’m not going to comment on B-Ob’s little ensemble, because my attention is on his Rambo-ready wife. As far as I’m concerned Michelle Obama is the one to watch. Anybody who has a child that's thrown a DEFCON 3 rated temper tantrum in the cereal aisle at the grocery store because you won't buy the Twinkly Sugar Bombs with the free Hannah Montanna microphone inside knows that Mrs. O has got the go-ahead gear for the modern Mom.

As a mother of teenagers, I know there’s not a day goes by that couldn’t be improved by a round of ammo unloaded in the PlayStation and the business end of my AK47 leveled low and steady at anybody hanging on the refrigerator door asking me what’s for supper. Fire off a warning round, and I might even get somebody to start at their bedroom door and shovel a path to freedom, or failing that the closet, through the piles of dirty laundry and borrowed electronics that presently restrict room to room travel. But that’s probably pushing my luck.

The next time I have enough teenaged boys hanging on the furniture in my living room to start my own alternative school, I’m going to break out the camo pants, sling on the Sure Shot and growl, “Somebody take out the Hefty Bag or your little electronic army men are gonna be missing some pixels.”

Of course, the only weapons allowed in the house are some foam rubber swords from the circus and an aging Super Soaker, which was an awesome example of water firepower before it sprang a determined leak in the back. These days, anybody that tries to take out a crowd of defenders either looks like the last place finisher in a wet T-Shirt contest or a likely candidate for a Depends commercial. Either way, I’m going to get the guys attention long enough to ask them to take the trash out.

So go ahead. Make my day.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I recently encountered a studious and official-looking survey designed to tell me whether I was experiencing burnout at work due to excessive stress. I knew it was a trustworthy and unbiased survey because I found it on the Internet.

On my first attempt to take the survey, the computer rejected my answers and diverted me to an advertisement for fake Rolex watches. I tried a second time and saw my answers dumped in favor of a screen offering a tidy sum of money from a recently widowed Nigerian Mary Kay representative. The third time, the survey recorded my answers quite cheerfully until I was halfway through, whereupon the creature swallowed up my multiple choices and pronounced me moderately stressed. It was half right. My lightning-fast response resulted in a serious keyboard malfunction. Now the j, k, and l keys are stuck. Between my fingers.

I decided right then and there to come up with my own stress test. You may be suffering from workplace burnout if you are guilty of harboring any of the following scientifically developed ideas:

You set your swipe card to stun.

You refer to your boss’s wife as “the next of kin.”

You experience copier rage when someone leaves the machine jammed, and carve drawings of pirate flags complete with skull and crossbones into the paneling of the copy room door as a warning to others.

You drive a 1964 Rambler that won’t show noticeable marks should you accidentally sideswipe the Porsche belonging to the guy that always takes the last cup of coffee.

You mutter “Make my day,” and shoot a round from the staple gun at the telephone if it rings at quitting time. Or any other time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Baby!

Since Bill Dear tells me that today is our anniversary, and because we’ve agreed not to buy any gifts, I thought I’d better take several seconds to reflect on the highlights of our years together. And since I’m worse off than a redneck without a rear-window gunrack when it comes to poetry, I’ve decided to create something that leans a little more toward my area of expertise: a list. So here is my Top Ten List of Adventures From Our Eleven Years Together.

In the first months of married life, you totaled both the new car and my new husband. Insurance covered them both, but it turned out that replacement parts for theToyota were easier and cheaper to come by than parts for your knee. I expected to do a little redecorating when we got married, but it would have been less expensive just to buy you a nice recliner. And if you pop me with that cane one more time, so help me you’ll be using it as a designer toothpick.

A few years later we totaled the Toyota again – this time together, which explains why the Toyota dealer turns off the lights, draws the blinds, and puts out a sign that says VOLKSWAGEN whenever we drive by.

We survived the Great Rice Krispie Treat Incident. The year I was going to make homemade goodies for Christmas gifts, you left me alone while you went for a grocery store run to stock up on provisions. When you left, I was measuring cereal into a cup. When you returned, I was covered in a marshmallow and Rice Krispie coating, my hands were cemented together like mortared bricks, and the telephone receiver was attached to my hair like a possum baby clinging to its mama. You took the blame for leaving me unsupervised, a random act of kindness I could appreciate more if every Christmas you wouldn’t bellow, “If you’re making cookies, I’m calling 911!”

We bought a Queen-sized sleigh bed. Otherwise how would we fit two boys, three cats, a Dachshund with a diva complex, and the front half of a Labrador in one place to watch Who’s Smarter Than a Fifth Grader on Thursday nights?

You joined the Baptist Church. Who else would forsake the energy and excitement of the Pentecostals and the quiet dignity of the Lutherans to spend eternity singing the first, second, and last verses of every hymn?

I lost my job. I went from a liability to an expense faster than Batman can double park the Batmobile when my office downsized, an event that affected our bank account much like the Grand Canyon influenced the terrain in Arizona. You suggested clever cost-cutting measures such as selling the children to gypsies. The gypsies brought them back, demanded a full refund, and refused to pay a restocking fee.

You introduced me to cultural events to broaden my horizons. Now that I’ve heard him sing in person, I still think Leon Redbone is missing some teeth.

We merged closets. I didn’t know that when he's angry a man’s jaw muscle really jumps like a Jack Russell terrier like the romance novels described until I suggested you put all your belongings in the coat closet in the front room.

You got a dog. For someone that lived quite successfully in a pet-free bachelor pad for eight years and the quiet company of cats before that, bringing home a big, black dog was like inviting Godzilla home to sleep on the couch--and walking him through the streets of Tokyo every night at seven for exercise.

You became a GPS for my entire family. When my sisters and I got lost trying to get home from an amusement park an hour away from home and called you, giggling hysterically, from a restaurant where we stopped to consider our plight over plates of sugary snacks, you successfully directed us home by phone. Any other man would have hung up and changed phone numbers.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is The Nest Half Empty or Too Full?

After carefully analyzing the results of a scientific study held in my living room over a period of last Saturday, I have come to the conclusion that the theory of the empty nest is a myth.

According to the bogus empty nest theory, a parent’s house becomes empty of radios blaring the theme to Iron Man, cell phones with top ten ring tones, and empty pizza boxes for extended periods of time such as between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Friday nights. The house becomes strangely silent and can be used for random activities such as sleep or dialing the local hospitals to see if the nestling is lying about in a luxurious private room racking up enough charges to bring on a personal visit from your insurance adjustor.

For a while I had one left in the nest and one fluttering about in the nearby vicinity, but my lesson came quickly: Nests are never half full. It only takes one teenage bird with a cell phone and video game controller to make the nest party central for every chickadee in the treetops. It’s an amazing fact of nature that the human teenagers can actually produce more human teenagers. This happens at an alarming rated equaled only by the number of dirty dishes that appear in the sink the moment you turn on the dishwasher, or laundry that appears in the basket when you wash that last load of delicates.

I’ve decided there must be a transmitter of some type in the video game controller. Whenever the thing so much as aims at an alien at my house, teenage boys come swarming in through the doors like house flies in July. They buzz around the kitchen soaking up beverages and spare pork rinds and settle on the living room furniture, rubbing their hands together while their gaze fastens to the onscreen action. I think they’re attracted to the light.

My own nestlings have recently performed evasive maneuvers; the one that was here is gone and the one that was gone isn’t. I’m not sure what that will mean in terms of luring more of the flock to my perch, but I have a bad feeling that there’s a team of swallows out there ready to migrate. I've seen Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds. I’d better stock the refrigerator.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Puppy Class Is No Treat

I don’t have a dog. I have a WalMart greeter that drools and wags his tail. Slobberchops is the canine equivalent of a used car salesman; he’s always happy to see you and anxious to share what you’ve got in your pocket. He’s also the size of a Pinto, the car not the horse, and his output is likely combustible. However, he is not cost efficient to operate, and pound for pound can pack away more fuel than a fully loaded Kenworth.

Why didn’t I get a dog with a job who can finance his liver habit, like Lassie, who was the canine equivalent to a First Responder? Timmy’s in the well? Lassie checks his doggie utility belt, throws a coil of rope over one shoulder, and rakes in twenty grand in photo ops. Instead, I ended up with a Lab-Dalmation mix who wouldn’t go near a well if it was filled with Swedish meatballs. His attitude is firm on this: if there’s not a squirrel involved, it’s best to contract out.

But he’s a real dog. He produces a an actual throaty bark instead of an annoying toy dog yipyap, has feet large enough to do real damage if a misstep takes him near your toes, and is large enough to see in the hallway late at night when you’re on a sweet tea-induced pit stop.

But I’m of the popular, but slightly misguided opinion that everyone should experience the unconditonial love and stinky goo-filled treads on your shoes that make dog-ownership a fulfilling experience. If Nike knew I’d be wearing their tennis shoes out in the doggie obstacle course late at night they might have reconsidered their “Just Do It” campaign. (Of course, I also think everybody should skin a chicken once in their lives or cook a meal without using any product that has the word “easy” on the package, but that attitude isn’t helping my bid for Team Mom.)

So last Saturday, for penance, I accompanied my sister and her “dog” to Puppy Class. This animal looks like a cross between a wild Dingo and a housecat. She’s an unusual shade of dark tan, has ears that look like the wings on a glider, and she’s not afraid of anything in the world, except tall, dark, men with deep voices. So maybe she’s smarter than I thought.

I can’t think what sort of heinous crime I committed to submit myself to the cuteness overload at Puppy Class. I’m leaning toward the grudge theory since I was the one who told my sister to take the thing home in the first place. Anyway there I sat surrounded by tufts of fur and rhinestone collars, seated between a hairball and an earmuff, which seemed safe enough until somebody accidentally dropped a cheese treat on the floor. Then there was enough fur flying to style toupees for Michael Jordan, Bruce Willis, and pre-rehab Britney—with enough left over to make her a little terrier to carry around in her pocketbook.

We sat with the defendant at the pet store, squinting through our bifocals and filling out the paperwork for obedience school. Puppy whiled away her time making mulch out of my glasses case while we filled in the blanks.

Under description, the form asked for color. We regarded the dog. “She’s, well, brownish” I said, chewing the eraser off the pencil.

“Put taupe,” my sister said, caressing the fiend’s ears.

“Taupe? Dogs don’t come in taupe. Stockings come in taupe. Designer shoes come in taupe.” I glanced down at the dog who was sitting on my foot and drooling down my instep. “Dogs come in brown.”

My sister gave me the same look I got the time she caught me trying on her toe shoes when we were kids.

T-A-U-P-E, I wrote on the form, then paused.

“It says distinguishing characteristics.”

“None. Unless you count her endearing personality.”

I shook the creature off my shoe and cleared my throat. “That would be her ears.”

“What do you mean, her ears? They’re lovely.”

“She looks like a sailboat in full wind.”

“Sure says the person whose dog has one Dalmation spot on his. . .”

“Shut up. That spot is an inheritance from this mother.”

“Well it looks like he has two. . .”

“Shut UP.” I clipped her smartly on the ear with the pad holding the obedience form.

“You’re just jealous because your dog is afraid of the dark.” She poked me in the ribs.

“At least mine doesn’t dive in his water bowl like a submarine performing evasive maneuvers.”

Suddenly two sharp blasts of water hit us right in the middle of our discussion. Our attention immediately focused on a short lady wearing a navy blue shirt and a stern look and holding a water bottle set for stun.

“Ladies, if you can’t behave in Puppy Class, you’ll be subject to disciplinary measures. Now come join the class please. There are your chairs. Sit. Stay.”

So in the end, obedience school turned out just fine. I learned the importance of group activity, how to sit quietly, and to keep my paws to myself.