Monday, April 19, 2010

Erma put the "Bomb" in Bombeck.

Erma Bombeck was the bomb.

For all of you that are not hip enough to know how the "cool kids" speak, I'll have you know that being "the bomb" is a good thing.

Wait. When things are cool, or rad, or awesome, do teenagers still say that they are "the bomb", or did I just age myself by using outdated slang?

Whatevs. I'll still loudly proclaim to the blogosphere that Erma was the bomb. The best. A trail blazer. A national treasure.

I had the pleasure of spending this past Thursday through Sunday at the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop at my beloved alma mater, the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio. The Erma conference is the only known writer's workshop in the country dedicated only to humor writing. Needless to say, I was a little more than excited to be among funny people at one of my favorite places on the planet for three days. However, soon after I signed up for this conference a few months ago, it hit me. I had never stayed in a hotel room by myself. Ever.

Kind of pathetic for a 35-year old woman, don't you think?

Of course I have stayed in plenty of hotel rooms with my parents and sisters when I was growing up, and now with my husband, but never by myself. The opportunity had just never presented itself. As a stay-at-home mom, it's not like I have the luxury of business trips and expense accounts. Although, I must admit that it has crossed my mind to try and somehow be able to turn the errands that I run on a daily basis into an overnight trip all by myself. After all, being able to sleep soundly for at least 8 hours in a king-sized bed with no interruptions for just one night would be the ultimate luxury.

Somehow I don't think that one would fly with my husband. I can't exactly say, "Corporate called, and they need me at the hotel adjacent to the outlet mall for 24 hours because of an emergency shopping trip." Darn. I totally need to establish an HR department around here that would approve that trip.

Bill was looking forward to taking a few days off of work to spend some time with the kids, and I was more than happy to relinquish my usual duties to hob-nob with writers such as Bill Scheft, Wade Rouse, Katrina Kittle, Loretta LaRoche, Steve Doocy, Gail Collins and W. Bruce Cameron. And Mo Rocca.

Here is the part of my entry where I name-drop, because I got to meet Mo Rocca on Friday, when the "CBS Sunday Morning" show was in attendance to film parts of the conference for an upcoming segment on the show. It's a good thing that my husband is hilarious, snarky, sarcastic and wears glasses, because so does Mo Rocca. And that's my type.

Normally, if I were to see a famous person, I would play it cool. I'd be all, "Oh look. There's Brad Pitt ordering a latte. There's Patrick Dempsey feeding a parking meter." But who am I kidding? I live in the Midwest, where celebrities are not often sighted. So I saw him and I gushed like I was a 12-year old girl standing in front of a Jonas Brother. I was with a few other writer friends, and we asked if we could take a picture with him, and of course he obliged. He asked where I lived and what I did. Because Mo Rocca totally wanted to know, you guys. I don't remember exactly what I said, but my usually articulate self was reduced to a babbling pile of words that came out something like, "Mommyblogger...four kids...writer...Erma Bombeck Conference". You know, something totally SANE. Then I handed him one of my business cards.

As if the funny Mo Rocca is going to read my mommy blog. But a gal can dream, can't she?

That's me on the right, and Jamie on the left, who writes the blog, Interfaithfully Yours. Doesn't he look like he's so into me? Look at his eyes. They're saying, "Dude. I've got a mommyblogger stuck to me. And she's gushing. Do they make a repellant for that? Get. Me. Out. Of. Here."

Call me, Mo.

Anyway, as I walked the campus of the University of Dayton this weekend, I had a light bulb moment when I realized that this was the same place that I found my independence as a 17-year old. At the time, I was scared, out of sorts and trying to figure out who I was as a woman, beyond the loving, protecting fold of my parents and my family. Now, here I was, years later trying to find my independence as a wife and mother, beyond the loving, protective fold of my husband and my children.

I once heard a parenting expert say something to the effect of, "Don't make your children the center of your universe. They should fit into your world, and you should not set it up the other way around, where you are always trying to fit into their world." I have no idea who said this, but I remember the general idea, and I have always tried to follow this mantra.

As a mother, it is so easy to hide behind schedules, after-school activities, carpooling, making dinners, doing laundry, and all the minutiae of life, and forget who I am, and what I want out of life. I could easily say, "I'm too busy with my kids to have time for a hobby." But there is that little creative section of my brain that needs an outlet. I have to write, or create, or make something. I am a better wife and mother because of it.

I have thought of all the other wonderful mothers I know that have talents and hobbies beyond their jobs as mothers, as I wrote about a few months ago in another entry. In fact, at this very moment, a friend of mine who has four children roughly the same age as mine, is running in the Boston Marathon, a very difficult race for which you have to qualify. Running is her "thing", and she is no less an awesome mother because of it. I so admire other mothers who do this job phenomenally, but still manage to stay true to themselves and that little voice in their minds that tells them they can go for it.

That's who I want to be when I grow up.

In fact, I was enjoying myself so much this weekend, and I wasn't pining away for my husband and children like I originally thought I would be. Of course, that made me feel a little bit guilty. However, when I had a little down time in between sessions, I pulled out the book, "Forever Erma", which is a compilation of her essays through the years. I happened to open it to one that she wrote entitled, "When Last Child Goes to School". She wrote this column back in 1966, when it was almost socially unacceptable for mothers to admit that they weren't June Cleaver, and they wanted more out of life than just cooking and cleaning all day.

Erma wrote (of the mothers who were devastated when their last child went off to school): "She's the woman who didn't have many interests going for her in the first place. When the children came along, it was the answer to her problem. Here was her crutch, her ace in the hole, her reason for not having to go outside the home, invent diversions, meet new friends, put up her hair, read a book or function as a woman. She wore her children like a hair shirt and told everyone how they depended upon her - when it was the other way around."


I don't know about you, but I don't want to be that kind of mother.
As Erma continued, she wrote about another kind of mother, and this is who I desire to be: "She wanted children too, but for another reason. They fulfilled a strong desire to love, raise and leave as a legacy another human being. But they didn't fulfill her ambitions, her struggle for individuality or her need to make a contribution to this life, no matter how small.
   I have seen women emerge like great beautiful butterflies from a cocoon existence that was limited to naps and peanut butter. I have seen them assume leadership, develop and grow into active citizens, unearth artful talents that surprised everyone - even themselves, revert to skills they had BB (Before Babies), and set about restoring their own personal appearance.
   I have also seen them sink into despondency, scrub the kitchen twice a week to pass the time and mechanically mouth the same old routine, 'I can't...(name anything). I've got the children.'"

As I read those prolific words of Erma's, I realized that I have no reason to feel guilty about wanting to pursue my own dreams. None of us should. I am a good mother and a good wife, and I can still be all of these things without losing myself.

Yesterday afternoon, I pulled in my driveway and ran into my house, ready to get much-needed hugs from Bill and the kids. I shouted, "I'm home!" and five pairs of feet came running from all directions.

"MOMMY WE MISSED YOU!!!" the kids all shouted in chorus.

And then, without missing a beat, they excitedly all wanted to speak at the same time. My 8-year old began, "Mom! Guess what! We got to level 5 in Super Mario Bros!"

Stupid me. I thought they were going to tell me about how miserable they were without me.

My 5-year old continued, while gasping for air, "Mom! Mom! And we bought 'Super Mario Party' with our own money too!"

Ah...the important things in life. Mario and Luigi. Clearly, they had not been pining away, unable to function without me. No one was emotionally ruined from not having me around for three days. They love me and missed me, but they knew I was coming back.

Bill and I are doing something right.

Thanks, Erma. Even though you are no longer on this earth, you continue to inspire this mother. You're still relevant after all these years.


  1. My sentiments exactly! Loved meeting you this weekend. Thanks for showing me and Pauline the UD party scene :)

  2. I love this! Wasn't it such a great weekend? It was so great to meet you and everyone else. I look forward to reading your blog and seeing you at another conference someday.

  3. Word! Well put, Clare. What a fab weekend with fun, talented peeps. I don't get the whole love affair with Mo, but you're still all right in my book!

  4. Great post! I don't get the love affair either. And I totally wouldn't have recognized him. Dude, he's old. Not the "Back to the Eighties" annoying commentary guy I conjure up when I hear the name.
    Oh, and what the hell is a "hair shirt"? That's in a Barenaked Ladies song and I've always wondered that. Thoughts?

  5. @peasoutmama - It must be my Catholic school education, but I know what a hair shirt is. It's a middle ages thang. It's for self-inflicted penance.

    Official definition: "A garment of rough cloth made from goats' hair and worn in the form of a shirt or as a girdle around the loins, by way of mortification and penance".

    Oh, and Mo Rocca ladies? Quirky, nerdy, sarcastic guys are HAWT. 'Nuf said.

  6. Loved the conference, too - and isn't it lovely to get away and be on your own for a bit? I remember doing that several years ago when my ratbags were little and demanding and it was such a relief to move independently without my octopus arms and bumblebee eyes and bat hearing all extended for the next disaster to coordinate.
    Now, alas, they are all growed up, and I'm left looking for my disasters in passers by...

  7. This last comment mad me snort with laughter! Yes, snort! "Ratbags" is my new favorite word! I call my kids my little "punks" sometimes, but ratbags is GOLDEN.

  8. So perfectly written! Amen!!!!! Thanks for the blog shout-out! You rock!! xoxo

  9. This is a great post-- I found you because I Googled Mo Rocca and Erma! I was the 2008 winner of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, and I learned about the tv spot with Mo (sigh) Rocca too late! I love Mo, and we usually watch that show, but missed it this week!

    I'm going to follow your blog. I hope you will come by and visit me, too. Here's one of my recent posts (though I've been somewhat out of touch, getting ready for my son's wedding recently...) I'll pour you a cup of coffee!


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