The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

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Mark your calendars! The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place April 5-7, 2018, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater.

Emails, texts, shmexts
What’s the difference?

Tracy BucknerOf all the things we may wish our parents would stop doing — like driving, eating too much salt and sugar or becoming too sedentary — my suggestion to my parents isn’t quite health-related.

I simply want my mother to place her iPhone under the front tire of her car and then drive over it. Many times. Until it’s pulverized.

First, the calls to me:

“Delly?”

“No, Mom, it’s Tracy.”

“I didn’t call you, I called Delly.”

“Mom, you called ME. You’re talking to Tracy.”

“Well, I meant to call Delly.”

At times I may receive a text with a red pin on a map indicating her current location. According to the map, she’s in her house and apparently not lost and hoping I can find her so there’s no need for alarm.

The FaceTime application makes me yearn for those days of the land line telephone. My mother doesn’t know why my face appears on her phone even though she is the one who initiated the Facetime call. It’s difficult to converse; she is too busy laughing and has no idea what to do next. Turning her phone this way and that makes her face jump side to side, up then down on my phone. I get dizzy trying to follow her image. “Mom,” I ask, “what the heck are you doing?!” She replies, “I’m LOLing.”

Calling her takes patience until she figures out which pocket, which purse, which counter, which chair, which car, which room her phone is in. Then she swipes to answer. Usually she swipes the wrong way no less than three times, disconnecting me each time. When we finally connect, she’s still laughing. I’m learning to take deep breaths as I count to 10.

When I call and my mother’s out of the house, she puts the phone on speaker and then places it to her ear. I hear the lawn mower, the check-out girl, a blow dryer, all sounds going on around her, but I can’t hear HER. She can’t hear me and I can’t hear her. My ears are ringing. We’re like walking advertisements for Verizon: “Can you hear me now?”

Despite my frustration, my dizziness and the constant ringing in my ears, I’m impressed technology doesn’t scare away this 80-plus-year-old. My interesting, intelligent mother reads the New York Times on her iPhone, forwarding articles on Tesla, hedge fund tax loopholes and recipes. So it’s with patience, respect, love and deep breathing that I explain to my mother that no, I didn’t receive her message in an email, but received it in a text that didn’t include the attachment indicated, and oh, by the way, the text went to four people I don’t know. From my still feisty mother, “Email, text, schmexts, what’s the difference?” And she inserted a red-faced emoji.

But the worst day of my life happened with the inevitable, dreaded phone call.

I knew it was coming, but still not quite prepared for it.

My distraught sister on the line, tearfully saying…

“Mom’s on Facebook.”

STEP AWAY from Facebook, I quickly texted my mother. This is nothing to be LOLing about. She texted back an emoji of a certain hand gesture.

So I accepted her Facebook friend request.

It might be easier to get her to stop driving.

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.

It’s not alright if you have to hurry

Teece Aronin A lot of things had happened.

I was buying a house. I’d dug so deep into my pockets that I’d gouged my ankles for the money to send my son Jon to Ireland with his school choir. My mother died.

One day it hit me: The only way Jon would have his passport in time for his trip was if I paid the extra fee to expedite it. I thought of the movie California Suite where four L.A. tourists are merging onto a freeway. The driver yells to ask if it’s clear. His wife yells back, “It’s alright if you hurry!” The driver then bellows: “It’s not alright if you have to HURRY!”

I hoped the Department of State thought it was alright if they had to hurry.

Next I realized I was missing a form, the DS-3053, the notarized one from my ex-husband giving his permission for Jon to leave the country.

I called my ex-husband who lives in Maryland. He was leaving town early the next morning and it was already late afternoon. With the Herculean effort only a father whose kid is about to lose out on a trip to Ireland can pull off, he made it to the post office where the form and a notary were available and had the whole mess overnighted.

Days passed. Then I received an email from the Department of State saying there was an error — a discrepancy between two dates noted on the form.

I called my ex-husband who was in L.A. He rushed to the nearest mailing service and filled out the form again. Calling me from the store, he said, “Here — I think you should talk to the notary.” A voice on the other end said:

“Ms. Aronin, this is Mazhar.”

“Yes?”

“Well ma’am, I was just explaining to Mr. Aronin that as a notary in the State of California, I’m not allowed to notarize this exact physical form from the Department of State. What I can do is attach a separate notarized form showing that I witnessed Mr. Aronin’s signature on this date and on that form, but I can’t notarize that exact form.”

“And the reason for that?”

“Because the State of California doesn’t recognize the language of the DS-3053.”

“The State of California doesn’t recognize English?”

“No, ma’am. I mean the State of California doesn’t recognize the language of the DS-3053.”

“So what you’re telling me,” I said, “is that the State of California is saying to the federal government that it has an issue with the wording of one of the federal government’s own forms? Really, don’t you think California is being a bit of an upstart?”

“Ma’am, I can’t say I understand it either; that’s just the way it is,” said Mazhar.

When the passport arrived in time, my ex-husband and I would have high-fived each other if not for the fact that, as indicated by the need for the DS-3053 using language unrecognizable by the State of California, we weren’t standing close enough to reach each other.

— Teece Aronin

Teece Aronin is an essayist and humor writer. You can find her work at ChippedDemitasse.blogspot.com, CAWLM.com and TrueHumor.com.

Happy almost Halloween

Mari' EmeraudeHappy almost Halloween all you parents!

Hey, I’m all for the little ones having a good time although I still think we need to design children’s costumes out of their winter coats. Here in Colorado it always seems to snow hard on the festive night.

This year Halloween falls on a Thursday, which means Friday is gonna be a difficult one for school teachers what with all the kids bouncing off the walls from massive sugar overload.

I used to stay in and hand out the goodies, but I was the one in the neighborhood who actually doled out toothbrushes or cheese sticks. Needless to say, I wasn’t the most well liked among the kiddies!

I remember Halloween was a little different when I lived in the United Kingdom. There, the children received mostly apples and nuts (and these kids whine about my cheese sticks). I guess it was in keeping with tradition when the adults were offered a drink at each house they went to — a nip of brandy here, a shot of whiskey there. By the time I reached the fourth house, I was pretty smashed! I staggered up to the door and called out, “triCkur TreAt – an’ make it a double.

This year I decided I’d go around with my grandchildren. I hope they won’t be too scared. They’ve seen me without my makeup so they should be good to go.

I’ve never been real big on Halloween, mostly because I don’t want to bother with the festivities of carving pumpkins and decorating. I hate anything pumpkin and can’t really handle the smell of apple cider. I suppose I should try and get into the groove of things for the sake of the grandkids though. I guess dressing up as a tired, worn-out mother of four just doesn’t have the horror it used to. I’ve overdone it.

Nah, I really need to rev up the scare tactics.

I know! Maybe I’ll hang my credit report in my front window — that oughta do it.

— Mari’ Emeraude

Mari’ Emeraude is a writer and poet from Denver, Colorado.

Joking till the cows come home

Jerry ZezimaEven though I have always been more apt to milk a joke than a cow, which can create udder confusion (see what I mean?), I have long wanted to be a gentleman farmer.

First, of course, I’d have to become a gentleman, which would ruin my reputation, or what’s left of it.

Then I’d have to buy the farm, which both my banker and my doctor say I am not ready to do.

So I recently did the next best thing: I went to Ty Llwyd Farm in Northville, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island, and met Dave Wines, who is both a gentleman and a farmer.

I also met June-Bug, a calf who has developed a bond with my 3-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

Chloe previously visited Ty Llwyd, a Welsh name pronounced Tee Luid, meaning “Brown House,” with her mommy, my younger daughter, Lauren, a member of the Southold Mothers’ Club, which arranged the trip.

“The kids had a nice time,” Dave recalled. “June-Bug took a liking to your granddaughter. She gave her lots of kisses and wanted to follow her out.”

“Maybe June-Bug will like me, too,” I said hopefully.

But first I watched as Dave meticulously planted a row of carrots. It was in a part of the 30-acre farm on the east side of the, yes, brown house. At the entrance, where there’s a west side story, visitors are greeted with these signs: “New York Permitted Raw Milk,” “Chicken Manure” and “Caution: Ducks.”

Dave, who’s 67 and fit as a fiddle, even though he doesn’t play one, was on his hands and knees, holding a little plastic doohickey (a farming term meaning “doohickey”) that contained carrot seeds. He used his right index finger to tap the seeds, one by one, into a long indentation in the dirt.

“Do you like our modern equipment?” asked Dave, adding that the farm has been in his family since 1872.

As he inched his way along, a process that took half an hour, Dave told me about an uncle of his who lived off the land and was, as a result, strong and healthy.

“He was in his 80s and his doctor had put him on a special diet,” Dave remembered. “He came over one day and said he wasn’t on the diet anymore. I asked him why. He said, ‘My doctor died.’ ”

Dave isn’t on a special diet, even though his doctor is still alive, but he does abstain from alcohol.

“When people find out what my last name is, they say I should open a winery,” Dave said. “But there are enough of those out here. Besides, I’m a teetotaler. I drink milk.”

I have more than made up for Dave’s lack of wine consumption, but I am now sold on his milk, which is the best I have ever tasted.

His son Christopher, who lives on the farm, is Ty Llwyd’s “milk man,” said Dave, adding that he has another son, Thomas, who lives in Boston, and a daughter, Judy, who lives in upstate New York.

“They’re in their 30s,” Dave said. “I forget their exact ages because the numbers keep changing. It’s hard to keep up.”

Dave’s wife, Liz, was born in Wales, where she and Dave were married.

“Today is our 42nd anniversary,” Dave announced proudly.

When I wished the delightful couple a happy anniversary, Liz said, “I’m celebrating by collecting eggs.”

She said the farm’s 1,200 chickens produce 65 dozen eggs a day. She also said Ty Llwyd has 33 cows.

“How much milk do they produce?” I asked Dave.

“A lot,” he answered, adding, “I told you I’m bad with numbers.”

After giving me a tour of the farm, which has plenty of modern equipment, Dave introduced me to June-Bug, who was in a fenced-in area with her fellow calves: Cassandra, Cricket, Flower, Millie and Twinkle. They all had name tags on their ears.

“Hi, June-Bug,” I said. “I’m Chloe’s grandfather.”

The sweet calf walked up and started kissing me with her large, rough tongue. The others kept their distance.

“She likes you,” Dave noted.

“It must run in the family,” I bragged.

“When she’s old enough, you should come back and milk her,” Dave said. “And that’s no joke.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Inspired by Erma

Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop badge(Editor’s Note: When we asked for personal stories about how the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop inspired writers to write — anything from books to blogs — the response was overwhelming. If you missed the opportunity and would like to share your story, send a short note to erma@udayton.edu for a follow-up story. )

One writer dubs the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop the “Woodstock of Humor.” Another calls it a “utopia” for writers — one “that only appears every other year, out of the mist, on the edge of the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio (like Brigadoon).”

Many say it’s life changing. Empowering. And, yes, magical.

When we asked for personal stories from writers, they told us they gained the confidence, writing know-how and connections to publish books, write essays for The New York Times and other national outlets, perform stand-up comedy, secure speaking engagements and submit work for anthologies.

“EBWW has been a nonstop chain reaction of success stories for me,” says Bonnie Jean Feldkamp, a freelance writer from Louisville, Kentucky, who credits keynoter and faculty member Gina Barreca for giving her valuable feedback on her essay about her blended family. It later appeared in The New York Times‘ “Motherlode” section.Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Attendee and fellow writer Amy Sherman hired Feldkamp to help her start her Kranky Kitty website and develop a social media strategy. And other writers, Lisa Smith Molinari and Suzette Martinez Standring, introduced her to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, where she now serves on its board as director of media.

In 2014, an attendee came up to Rosalie Bernard in a University of Dayton hallway after she “totally bombed” her Pitchapalooza book pitch and said, “Hey, I would buy it!” Bernard wanted to hug her. “I kept thinking, ‘If she would, others Rosalie Bernardwill.'” Two years later, she published Mimi and the Ghost Crab Dance, which is now in its second printing, and she’s writing the second book in the trilogy.

“And all this was inspired by Team Erma,” she says.

Allia Zobel NolanAllia Zobel Nolan, a former senior editor at Reader’s Digest who’s written close to 200 books, traveled from Norwalk, Connecticut, to attend her first workshop this spring — with some hesitation. “What could a writers’ conference teach a publishing veteran of 15 years, a been-there-done-that woman on the lookout for innovative, time-saving, smarter ways of doing things while staying relevant in an ever-changing literary world?” she asked herself.

Plenty.

“I learned so much, I could hardly internalize it all — from social media to branding, from the importance of garnering a loyal ‘tribe’ of fans and friends to getting a lousy first draft of your novel done and dusted, not to mention a way into The Huffington Post. (After trying for months to no avail, I’m now a blogger on the site, thanks to the kindness of a most helpful Erma attendee who recommended me),” she says.

“Then there are the people — other writers, authors, humorists — who understand what it’s like writing (sitting down at your desk and opening up a vein), who are not afraid to share their triumphs and failures, and who are more encouraging than your mom coaxing you into the world at birth.”

Stacey GustafsonStacey Gustafson, an author and blogger from Pleasanton, California, caught “the stand-up comedy bug” after learning techniques from comedy pro Leighann Lord and performing at the closing night of the 2014 workshop. Since then, she won a stand-up comedy award, performed at a middle school fundraiser, wrote a feature story for Toastmaster Magazine and landed two paid stand-up gigs.

“The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop has made a huge difference in my writing and confidence,” she says. “Through this process, I discovered that stand-up comedy is way harder than writing humor. When you write a story, you’re in the comfort of your own home, pecking away at the keyboard with the ability to rewrite and massage a story at your leisure. The same cannot be said for stand-up.

“In stand-up, every word must be perfect. Gestures, pauses, eye contact, timing and facial expressions are essential for success plus the ability to gauge an audience reaction. Don’t forget body movement, posture and memorization. …My confidence has soared, and it all started at the 2014 workshop.”Ginger Lumpkin

After Ginger Lumpkin, a columnist from Thorntown, Indiana, heard comic, author and coach Judy Carter give an hilarious keynote talk at the 2014 workshop, she began thinking about what it would take to launch a public speaking career. After this year’s workshop, she registered for Carter’s online class and began working with her on developing and perfecting a motivational talk.

“I am presenting it four times at a corporate training conference, and two other businesses, so far, have expressed interest,” she said. “Judy is phenomenal. EBWW is amazing.”

Mindy Wells Hoffbauer, a writer from Springboro, Ohio, credits the “incredible networking opportunities” at the workshop for helping her land a job in social media marketing for W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, who co-wrote the screenplay for A Dog’s Purpose, available in movie theatres nationwide, starting in January.Mindy Wells Hoffbauer

“I’ve had the pleasure of editing books for Nancy Berk and Barb Best and am now having the time of my life working as a social media director,” she says. “And none of this would have happened without Erma.”

Kim EllerKim Reynolds, of Commerce Twp., Michigan, says the workshop gave her a big dose of “You can do it.”

“I made so many new friends and learned so much about writing that it almost paralyzed me,” says Reynolds, who pens a humorous blog, Kim’s Crazy Life, and writes for the Oakland Press.

At the 2016 workshop, Janet Coburn, a freelance writer and blogger from Beavercreek, Ohio, with bipolar disorder, “learned a thing or two about writing — how to write a better query letter, how to improve my blogs, when to consider self-publishing” — but mostly she learned to pace herself by finding quiet spaces and taking breaks.Janet Coburn

“Am I glad I went? Yes. The experience was good for me in more ways than one. Paying attention to my own limits and not trying to live up to artificial expectations made for a good — and survivable — learning experience.”

Kathy TullyAfter registering for the 2016 workshop, Kathy Shiels Tully, a regular contributor to the Boston Globe and magazines, felt so inspired about her writing life that she sent an essay for inclusion in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s latest book, The Power of Gratitude. It was accepted.

“I’ve sent a few stories in to Chicken Soup and have to say there’s something exciting knowing your story was picked out of thousands,” she says.

After the spring workshop, Helen Chibnik, a lifestyle writer and blogger from Middletown, New Jersey, found the inspiration to write a novel — and more.Helen Chibnik

“You would think that the workshop content would be the best part, but it wasn’t,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong. The content was worth five times the price. It was wonderful, and I still use the timer Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney gave us. (And) Anna Lefler’s session inspired me to work on a novel, to write more and care less about what other people might think.

“But, for me, that workshop provided a community of people who think like me, who understand what it means to be a mom, a professional, a daughter, lose a loved one, and to fail and to still find something to smile about. People who feed on humor for therapy, even for survival sometimes. I don’t think there is another collection of smarter, happier and more insightful people than the Erma attendees.”

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founding director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications.

Hair drama

 

Hillary IbarraI think my bathroom mirrors have learned to dissemble.

My own reflection stares out at me, seven times out of 10, with bright eyes, a dewy (otherwise known as oily) complexion and lustrous (also known as oily) hair.

Mysteriously, the minute I sit in a salon chair, I am instantly horrified by the lackluster, frizzy hair that frames my wrinkled, squinty eyes and pockmarked face. The shock is akin to seeing yourself in a swimsuit beneath florescent lights in a public dressing room as opposed to the dim, gentle lighting of your own bedroom hundreds of miles from a beach.

Why can’t salon mirrors be like those at the plush lingerie store? Those reflective surfaces are so savvy in their mendacity that we come out honestly believing we look good in a G-string and teddy with fewer threads than a paper napkin. Undoubtedly, they have some kind of special technology that, while reflecting our faces, swaps our bodies out with an idealized, computer-generated version of our 20-year-old selves.

All hairdressers’ studios, on the other hand, seem to have mirrors that make our crowning glory look like it’s in desperate need of chopping above the ears, a dye job defying all things natural or a partial shave. That’s how they rake in the money and convince women to do outrageous things to their heads that cause their husbands to gnash their teeth and their friends to tell bald-faced lies entailing the extravagant use of adjectives such as “cute,” “trendy” and “bold.”

I have yet to cave in, get a platinum dye job and razor my locks to within an inch of their life, but, believe me, I’ve thought about it!

My courage to storm ahead in this life with only my God-given body and color survived a stylist who made me cry by telling me very rudely that I could not pull off bangs in my wildest dreams because I had neither the high forehead nor the full hair for it. It survived an anniversary date with my husband when I asked another hairdresser for big, retro waves, and she — defeated in her valiant efforts by my fine, silky locks — made up an excuse to give me a discount and sent me out the door with hair that resembled no-boil lasagna noodles.

I’ve had my moments at home, too. Every time I try to curl my hair, for instance, I look more and more like Medusa’s offspring in both strand texture and facial expression with each twist of the iron. And a blowout? Forget about it! When an acquaintance told me that her enviable blowout would sadly fall flat by the next day, I had to resist the urge to throw a bucket of water on her head! I could do a handstand for three hours in a gallon of hot volumizing mousse, and the minute I righted myself, my hair would flatten against my scalp. Even the professionals with their expensive tools and products can’t give me a lift.

One particularly catastrophic Sunday I stormed through my house yelling, “Stop lying to me!” at every member of my family who dared to tell me that my hot mess of a curl job looked good. After an hour spent trying to shape my hair with unrelenting, brutal heat, I at least wanted the satisfaction of hearing my family confess that it looked atrocious. Is there any better way to prepare yourself for church on a Sunday morning, after all, than to point a finger by turns at each of your loved ones, exclaiming, “You’re a liar! And you! And you!,”merely because they tried to be kind?

Really, what is it with us women and our hair?

I heard a story about two little girls recently, one with tight, curly hair and the other with stick-straight tresses. They were the best of friends but each wished for what the other had. The curly-haired girl very earnestly said to her friend one day, “When we get to college, I can curl your hair and you can straighten mine.”

I suppose that about sums it up, and that is why — no matter what the world comes to — the hair salon and product businesses will never hurt for money from desperate women.

Wait. Did I say desperate? I meant adventurous. And super trendy.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Obituary clippings in birthday cards

Laura BeckerEvery year was the same.

A check for $7.50 together with black-and-white photos of dead people I didn’t know. And as I cracked open the glitter-coated card they would flutter away, helicoptering off in an attempt to escape the glad tidings of “Happy Birthday Granddaughter” emblazoned across the cover of their celebratory sarcophagus.

We moved the 178 miles, from Missouri to Kansas, shortly after I turned five, but far before FaceTime or fax machines. So even though it was only one state over, it was worlds away. And when that first envelope arrived, I was absolutely elated.

Like most kindergarteners, “departed” and “deceased” were not on my list of sight words as my sixth birthday rolled around. So when I first found them, I had no idea what they were. Or who they were, these peaceful, pleasant-faced people on the backsides of coupons and classifieds. Each carefully clipped and inscribed with ballpoint annotations penned in their margins.

The following year, “obituary” flowed phonetically from my first-grade lips, to my parents’ utter shock as I beamed with pride at my new ability to sound out the unusually long word found in the fold of my festive fiberboard regards. I remember that small scrap of newsprint being suddenly whisked away as the card was propped open with the others atop our console TV to commemorate the occasion.

But by my eighth year, my reading skills and vocabulary had increased. Now I got the full picture of the portraits before me. A confusing and ominous overture included with my well wishes. And my father had reached his limit.

I remember it was late, because long distance calls were only conducted after a certain hour. I took the phone and thanked my grandparents for their thoughtfulness then handed it to my dad, who took it in a heated state as I headed halfway to my room. I watched around the kitchen corner as the phone cord coiled and extended, coiled and extended, coiled and extended in a hypnotic rhythm with every pacing step he took. And although the clippings came from a place of trying to keep him connected to where he came from, he wanted my grandmother to know that my birthday card was neither the time nor place. Nor was it my “time nor place” as I was quickly discovered and escorted to my room.

My mother sat me down with stationary and a pair of scissors the next day. Those old enough to read were now old enough to write and select additional material to enclose. You see, something had transpired over the course of the unheard portion of the phone conversation that led my parents to not only see my grandparents’ intentions of keeping us connected to where we came from, but to see our need to attempt to connect my grandparents to where we currently were. Way before wireless, it seems for my grandparents, enclosing a little clipping about what we were up to around town, where we went or even what we had for school lunch, printed out in black and white, somehow made it more real. A third-person point of view reporting on the new land that we lived in — and were most likely never moving back from.

And the obituary clippings in my birthday cards? They stopped, but not the $7.50. That amount will always remain a mystery. But the sentiment behind it will not.

— Laura Becker

Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa, which, according to Walter Neft in Double Indemnity, makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost.

My guilty one-night stand with a mini van

Chelsea FlaggI know people love their minivans.

I hear about it all the time — from the mom of a trillion kids who has an after-school carpool shift to the adorable family singing about their swagger wagon in those catchy commercials.

I know how convenient and easy they make your life. I mean, they have a freaking vacuum built into them. Heaven, here I come!

Tired of (thinking about) leaving “sorry” notes every time my kids dinged the car doors into somebody else’s car, I timidly said to my husband one night, “I think I’m ready for a minivan.”

I expected him to freak out and talk me out of it on the spot, but much to my chagrin, he nodded and agreed that our decision to have that third child forced us into the “not-cool-car club.”

The next morning, I went about life as usual until I got a call from my husband. “I just signed all the paperwork for you to pick up your new car tomorrow. It’ll be a straight up exchange for our car, just bring the keys!” My jaw dropped. I was the proud owner of a new caaaaar!!! (said in a Tv-show-type of voice)

My kids were thrilled to pieces about the new family member. They pored over pictures of it online, and I even overheard my oldest daughter telling her friend that “minivans are soooo cool. They’re like real vans, only smaller.”

But, even with all the buzz, I was mortified. I didn’t really want a minivan, did I? I mean, sure, that built in vacuum…(drooling). Alright, twist my arm. I can totally handle it. I don’t care what I drive anyway; that’s never been my thing. I won’t be embarrassed. In fact, I’ll rock my swagger wagon like nobody has ever seen!

But, even after my little pep talk, I felt really nervous driving into the parking lot full of mom-mobiles. I suddenly loved my car for everything it was (even though I’m known to complain about it quite regularly). Why was I giving up a good thing for a bubble on wheels?

My fingers involuntarily gripped the key as I tried to hand it over to the sales guy. I needed an out. I had to stall for time until I thought of an out!

“Can I take it for a test drive first?” I shyly asked, as if nobody ever wanted to test drive a car before. The salesperson hopped into shotgun and we drove around the neighborhood, getting lost only once, which is a huge success for me. The sales guy chatted about his kids and something about Disneyland or whatever. I wasn’t listening. I was FREAKING OUT.

And then, it came to me. My garage! This dumb minivan may not fit in my garage! Because my garage is similar to the bat cave. It’s in a tiny alley, and you have to make like a 20-point star turn just to get a bike into it, let alone a car.

“So…here’s the thing,” I said confidently, now that I knew my out. “This monstrosity might not fit into my garage. I need to know that if I take it off the lot and it doesn’t fit, I can bring it back no questions asked and get my old car back.”

He raised his eyebrow at me — as most people do when they try to imagine a garage that is built to fend off cars instead of attract them. Maybe also because most people don’t buy a car first and then say it might not work out. “Uh…sure, no problem.”

“GREAT!” My buttcheeks released for the first time that day. “I need to run quick to the grocery store, and then I’ll call you when I get home to let you know the verdict.”

“Perfect! I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it once you see how well it does on a grocery trip.”

I drove the minivan off the lot, shielding my face in case anyone I knew happened to be driving next to me. I had no idea how self conscious I could feel in a vehicle. I wasn’t myself. I felt like I could drive like a total crazy woman and nobody would even bat an eye because, hey,  she’s in a minivan.

I dug through my purse to find my darkest sunglasses and put my hair up in a way I don’t normally wear it — JUST TO GET THROUGH THE GROCERY STORE PARKING LOT WITHOUT BEING NOTICED. Celebrities everywhere, I felt your pain that afternoon.

I did my shopping and looked around before darting back to the car as inconspicuously as possible. Then, I headed home praying that this new car wouldn’t fit in my garage.

After a good 10 minutes of trying to maneuver that thing, I was relieved to find that I couldn’t do it. WHEW! I called my husband, who was out of town and waiting at the airport to fly home. “See if they’ll let you keep it overnight,” he said. “I’ll try to fit it into the garage in the morning.”

To which I responded an over-eager “NO, that’s okay. I’m just going to return it now.”

I took it back and, much to the sales guy’s dismay, asked for my old car back. Sometimes all it takes is losing something for a minute to appreciate it even more. A rainbow framed my car, and I swear it purred “hello” to me as I got in it to drive home. “I’m sorry, car. I’ll never abandon you again,” I hugged the steering wheel and cried with joy.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, ran up to her bedroom and cried for a solid hour when I broke the news to her that we were not the owners of a new van, only smaller.

— Chelsea Flagg

Chelsea Flagg is a comedic writer and stay-at-home mother to her three practically perfect daughters. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and kids. She published her first book, I’d Rather Wear Pajamas, last fall and has been featured on many different sites. But you can find her hanging out here most often.

Reflections of Erma