To Erma

Today is the birthday of humorist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996). If I had to pick one author whose words had real impact and meaning in my life, she’s my girl.

To me, she’s the Mark Twain of mothers, a precursor to Tina Fey, but she’s also a woman who knows what it’s like to change countless poopy diapers and to scrub in vain at dried toothpaste in the bathroom sink. Her writing is like having a nice, chatty aunt encouraging you to keep at it when you’re absolutely sure that your three-year-old is destined to be the only high schooler who never got the hang of potty training.

“All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.” – Erma Bombeck

At a time when mothers were expected to keep a spotless house, raise mannerly children, and endure it all with a silent smile, she wrote the unvarnished truth about motherhood — how hard it really is, how utterly stressful, and how rewarding. She chronicled the inanity of housework and the bewildering, exhausting chaos of child-rearing.  And she did it with humor, insight and the understanding of one who had been in the trenches too.

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

My mom once saw Erma in person, giving a talk at a local church. She almost didn’t go because she had given birth to my older brother a few weeks before and was wrapped in that dead-tired haze only new mothers have. But a friend insisted that she not miss seeing this funny lady speak. Mom said that Erma was quick-witted and honest, reading snippets from her columns and then chatting and laughing with the audience like they were old friends.

“When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.” – Erma Bombeck

When I was growing up, we had Erma’s books in our house, and I was fascinated by their titles, like If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits? and The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. When I was a kid, I thought they were funny; as a mom, I think they’re prophetic.

“When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he’s doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911. ” – Erma Bombeck

I just checked out several of her books from the library, and I’m planning to reread them in the next few months. I need a little of Erma’s humor to get through our seemingly endless Jenga schedule, and I’m willing to sacrifice sleep to do so.

“There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, ‘Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.’ Then they put the box away and bring it out once in awhile to look in it, and yep, they’re still there. These are great dreams, but they never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, ‘How good or how bad am I?’ That’s where courage comes in.” – Erma Bombeck

Happy Birthday, Erma. Thanks for the encouragement and understanding.


About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
This entry was posted in Family, Mothering, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to To Erma

  1. Vinny Grette says:

    Thanks for posting! Erma would have been someone special to know 🙂

  2. Erma was a fascinating, insightful and hilarious woman. Thanks for this great post; I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Nina Badzin says:

    This is a great tribute. I can’t believe I just read my first Bombeck collection recently!

    • Doesn’t she just nail the ups and downs of motherhood in her books? Her writing reminds me a bit of Nora Ephron in that she’s willing to say aloud what everyone else is thinking. What was the title of the collection you read? The one I remember had 4 of her books in it. I dropped by the library today and grabbed a few of her books. I think I’m going to read “Motherhood: the Second Oldest Profession” first in my Erma-a-thon. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. mtetar says:

    Yes T H A N K S Erma for the laughter. Thanks Joan for sharing this post. Be Blessed!

  5. Micha says:

    Aww, what a wonderful post…the quotes scattered throughout were a nice touch. She really did get it, didn’t she? Enjoy rereading her books!

    • Yeah, I agree, Micha — reading her stuff is like talking with a friend who’s already been through what you’re going through now. Love that! And those quotes crack me up, except for the last one which makes me think, “Better dust off that box of dreams.”

  6. I have never actually read her books…it’s definitely on my mental to-do-list! I did read her autobiography a few years ago though! She is such an interesting lady and someone all Moms can relate to. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to actually sit down with her and talk? That’s so cool that your Mom got to see her in person! Great post!

    • To me her writing still strikes such a chord, because we’ve all been there with the kids going crazy and the house exploding with dirty clothes and toys. Cracking up about it instead of melting down? That’s Erma’s gift.

      I completely agree with you too — she’s definitely someone that all moms can relate to. Hey,if you get a chance to read something of hers, let me know. Love to know what you think of it. Who knows– we might even have a bit of a book chat here.

  7. Lovely post Joan, I’ve never read any of her books but now I might have to, I love the way you describe her and how your mom described her when she saw her in person talking! Me too, I sacrifice my sleeping time when I’m into a book! Have a great weekend! 🙂

    • Her books are great reads, I’m telling you! I started one last night and stayed up waaay too late — but I loved every minute of it, even if I’m paying for it today! 🙂 Have a great weekend too!

  8. Time With Thea says:

    What a lovely tribute. My mother had her books in the house and I remember reading them. Erma was so insightful and so humorous. I was always amazed how she could write about day-to-day things we take for granted and give you something to think about. Thanks for this lovely post! ~Thea

    • Thanks, Thea! I’d go so far as to suggest that Erma was the precursor to the mom bloggers out there (along with Anna Quindlen). Both ladies wrote regular newspaper columns about motherhood way before blogging came to be. And I adore her humor — she cracks me up maybe even more today because now I’m living those situations. Thanks for coming by and your lovely comments, as always!

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