For my mom’s generation, Erma Bombeck was the voice of motherhood.

Not the Shangri-la, idealized, TV commercial version of every-hair-and-tablecloth-in-place mothers. Erma wrote about the real-life adventures of mothers with piles of dirty dishes, dandelion bouquets and smuggled earthworms stashed in the kids’ underwear drawers.

Erma told it like it was — with humor, grace and exasperation.

Twice I’ve attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where I chatted about humor and writing with folks like Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, W. Bruce Cameron, Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright) and Father Guido Sarducci (Ashtabula’s own Don Novello). Perhaps the biggest kick, though, was meeting Erma’s kids, Betsy, Andy and Matt, and her husband, Bill. Her love was evident in the recollections they shared. Erma Bombeck remains an icon for humor columnists like me. But for them, Erma, who passed in 1996, was Mom (and wife).

This month held both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday. As a gift to her, allow me to share the wit and wisdom of the matriarch of the Bombeck clan, Mama Erma.

• When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.

• When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.

• Giving birth is little more than a set of muscular contractions granting passage of a child. Then the mother is born.

• Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply. “Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?” “Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?” “Wasn’t there any change?”

• Who, in their infinite wisdom, decreed that Little League uniforms be white? Certainly not a mother.

• You show me a boy who brings a snake home to his mother and I’ll show you an orphan.

• I’m going to stop punishing my children by saying, “Never mind! I’ll do it myself.”

• What mother has never fallen on her knees when she has gone into her son’s bedroom and prayed “Please, God. No more. You were only supposed to give me what I could handle.”

• My mother phones daily to ask, “Did you just try to reach me?” When I reply, “No,” she adds, “So, if you’re not too busy, call me while I’m still alive,” and hangs up.

• 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 20 years ago.

• It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.

• My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.

• My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch on fire or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one cares. Why should you?

• No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed. I have known mothers who remake the bed after their children do it because there is wrinkle in the spread or the blanket is on crooked. This is sick.

• Someday, when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I’ll tell them: I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom and what time you would get home. … I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover your friend was a creep. I loved you enough to make you return a Milky Way with a bite out of it to a drugstore and confess, “I stole this.” … But most of all I loved you enough to say no when you hated me for it. That was the hardest part of all.

 

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