Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review: If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

I managed to be a good boy this year and get flowers to Mom and Stepmom on time (it's a frickin' miracle!). And since I was thinking about moms and parenting in general this week, I thought I'd refresh myself with some amusement from my childhood: in my case, that would be Erma Bombeck, a housewife who turned motherhood into a successful newspaper column and book writing career.

Erma seemed to fit our household (Mom, sis, me) very well. She was a Silent Generation white lady from the Midwestern suburbs with a sly sense of humor and excellent writing skills. At one point I wanted to write an article entitled "Aunt Erma's Mutant Offspring," because reading Erma was sort of like living with my Mom, and I'd become a very suburban type of writer myself, in outlook if not subject matter. My stepmom (Marilyn) is of similar bent and sense of humor. If fathers provide sons with their "big picture" views of the world--and I became a Reagan conservative even though Dad was 1,000 miles away--moms seem to provide a sense of balance, and an appreciation of the little things that bring joy, pain, and laughter.

If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? came out in 1978, around the time I picked up my voracious reading habit. I'm not sure, but I think Mom read some of it to Colleen and me as part of our "reading time." This is the sort of shared family time of which Erma would have heartily approved. And so, rather than go into a great deal more analysis, I'll just throw in some of my favorite "bits" from this book, which is derived from her columns written in the 1970s. Just trust me, the whole thing is worth reading, if only to get an insight into parenting as done by grown-ups born 1930-46.


[T]here are some ground rules that must prevail while a mother is employed outside the home. First, when to bug and when not to bug. In other words, when do you call Mom on the phone at work?

Emergencies do arise. There's no doubt about that, but some guidelines must be established at the top of the page.

Before a child calls his mother at work he must ask himself: (1) Will Mom drop dead when she hears this? (2) Can she find a plumber after five? (3) Will she carry out her threat to move to another city and change her name?

If the answers are "Yes, No, Yes," the child might try putting the incident in a little perspective.


Other situations to be definite about:

When a group of children decide to wash the cat and put in the dryer and want to know what setting to use...CALL.

When he and his brother are hitting and slapping over the last soft drink and he wants a high level decision on who gets it. DON'T CALL.

When a couple of men in a pickkup truck tell him his Mom is having the TV slipcovered, the silverware stored, her jewelry cleaned and his ten-speed bicycle oiled, CALL...AND FAST.


This is quite possibly my favorite, for reasons which will become swiftly obvious:

Primer for Imaginative Children

This is a house.

Vehicles are not permitted in the house.

Occupancy of this house by more than two hundred people is dangerous and unlawful. Violators will be prosecuted.

There is a dog in the house. His name is Spot. Spot likes to run and play and chase sticks. He also likes to relieve himself with some regularity. Watch Spot for telltale signs of urgency, such as jumping higher than the ceiling, gnawing on the doorknob, or tunneling under the

It is fun to eat. See the milk? See the butter? See the lunch meat? They cannot run. They cannot walk. They have no legs. They must be picked up and returned to the refrigerator or they will turn green. Green is not a happy color.

Hear the phone ring? That means someone wants to talk to you. Ring. Ring. Ring. When the phone rings, pick it up speak directly into it. Say "Hello." Say "Goodbye." Say anything.

A bedroom is a special place. Find your bed each day. Try. Sometimes, you cannot see your bed because it is covered with clutter. A cluttered room is a messy room. Fish die in a messy room. Mothers cannot breathe in a messy room. A messy room is unfit for humans. Many people in this house are human.

A bathroom is your friend. It is there when you need it. Lids do not like to be standing all the time. They get tired. Towels do not like to be on the floor. They cannot see anything. Ugh. Soap does not like to lie in a drain and melt. Boo.

See Mommy come home. See Daddy come home. They are walking on their knees. Be kind to Mommy and Daddy. "Look, look, Mommy, Bruce is bloody. I'm telling, Debbie. I didn't do it, Daddy."

Do you want to make Mommy crazy?

Do you want to make Daddy rupture a neck vein?

Then shape up, up, up.


I was going to include more, but I just wanted to give you a taste of "Aunt Erma," who raised more than a few Generation X kids, if only by osmosis, and her passing in 1996 was a loss to many of us. Anyhow, be nice to your mother(s), guardians, mentors, and other female authority figures in your life. Gosh knows they've done the same for you.

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