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Of measuring cups and life

When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be a ballerina or a princess. Deep down, though, I knew what I really wanted to be.

I wanted to be a mom.

I was one of those kids who read everything I could get my hands on. At some point I must have finished all of my Nancy Drew books, and I started reading my mom’s Erma Bombeck books. I remember one of Erma’s stories. She wrote about two kinds of moms in the world: the kind who washes a measuring cup out with soap after she’d only used it to measure water, and the kind who doesn’t.

This was my takeaway: Erma was funny, and I wanted to be the kind of mom who washes the measuring cup out with soap.

As hard as I tried, I probably only had fleeting moments of being that kind of mom. Even if I managed to wash my measuring cup out with soap, I was the kind of mom who had a job. I was the mom who got divorced. I was a single mom. I was the mom who didn’t have to wash her measuring cups because it was easier to just go out to eat.

Then I got married to the Pastor and I was the kind of mom with a step in front of it, raising preacher’s kids alongside my own.

While Erma never had to worry about being a pastor’s wife or a step-mom, we had one thing in common — living with people who gave us plenty of writing material. I didn’t just want to be a mom anymore; I wanted to be a writer.

A couple of years ago I went through the worst kind of writer’s block a humor writer could have.

I was sad.

I know why I got stuck. I had spent two years trying to get pregnant, having a baby that died, trying some more, failing and letting go. Nothing had worked out the way I thought it would; nothing was funny. I had all the time in the world to wash measuring cups out with soap, but no baby.

I had this need with my writing to make everything funny. There wasn’t anything funny about miscarriage or infertility. Was there? Granted, I was 40. I was living with three teenagers. I was not that many years away from having an empty nest. Wanting another baby? I must have had some kind of mental condition. There had to be something funny about all of it.

About the only thing I could come up with was that my body and baby did not get along because my baby didn’t like Mexican food and we just couldn’t come to an agreement. Or the baby was just as ungrateful as our other kids (I carried that baby all over Europe and then he just took off after the vacation).

I had the hardest time writing, but I kept reading. Once again I found myself out of books and at Goodwill searching for more. That’s when I stumbled across a collection of just about every single one of Erma’s books.

I read Erma’s A Marriage Made in Heaven…or Too Tired for an Affair. I realized Erma didn’t just write about the funny stuff. Erma wrote about everything, good and bad. This book? It was exactly what I needed.

I learned something about Erma I never knew. Erma had struggled with infertility. Erma had been 40 and pregnant, too. I started the chapter about Erma’s pregnancy at age 40 with renewed hope. Erma was a huge success! Maybe this was a good omen. Here I was struggling to write and struggling to get pregnant. Maybe Erma had all the answers.

Turns out, Erma and I had something else in common. Erma’s baby died, too.

Erma wrote about it.

Erma wrote about not wanting to deal with the inevitable. Wanting to wait just a little bit longer. Not wanting to let go. Maybe it would turn out ok. About having to give a child back.

And you know what? It wasn’t funny.

But it was ok.

My whole life I had admired Erma for her successes. But now I also admired Erma for her failures.

Sure, there was the successful Erma Bombeck. But there was another Erma I could and should relate to. The Erma who had her share of failures.

Erma had survived, and she went on to write about it. I knew I could, too, whether it was funny or not. The material is still out there, whether you can see it or not. Whether you can process it or not. But you never will if you don’t write it. You have to write. You have to make your way through it, and at some point you will be on the other side and things will be funny again.

Eventually I was ok. Eventually I picked up keyboard again. Eventually I got unstuck.

And I no longer care if the measuring cups get washed out with soap. I have more important things to do, and to write about.

Thanks, Erma.

—Robyn Riley

Robyn Riley writes a humorous blog about being married to a pastor.

Reflections of Erma