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Jogging like a pro (almost)

Mandy WaysmanI don’t want to overstep my bounds as your friend and confidante here, but what the heck — I’m here to share.

I made a little bit of a mistake last night during my “jogging.” In order to be accurate I think I should come clean and say it’s like a quick-fast shuffling of feet. I don’t know that I have earned “jogging status” because I don’t really have the form.

Onward to the story at hand. The pants I wore were a little loose. I didn’t think much of it because apparently I lack some common sense and understanding of physics.

Once I started “jogging,” there were some issues (I’m pronouncing that word “ish-sues” to sound classier in my head. Do it with me). I spent a good three minutes trying to pull them up and “jog,” but then I thought screw it — bring it on, pants!

Unfortunately, there is a danger element in running with something around your knees, so I had to give up and pull them up eventually. Even if my middle name is danger.

I came up with a new plan. I tucked my pants up into my sports bra. Let’s picture this together, me quickly shuffling my feet, my pants tucked into my sports bra and cuss-breathing. At this point to put your mind at ease, I want to assure you this was on a treadmill at a home and not in public.

I have recognized that I can’t unleash this level of fitness on the unsuspecting city yet. You’re welcome.

Earlier in the day a friend and I (I’m not naming her because I’m not sure she will still claim me as such) were talking about how you can tell the “pro” joggers from the hobby joggers. This is going to sound brattish, but I think I might be a pro. Who else exhibits this level of problem solving except for someone who is climbing the pro jogger ladder? Fitness trainer career? Maybe, but can anyone handle that?

New rule of thumb: If I can tuck my pants up into my sports bra, the pants are too large. Thou shalt set aside thy pants of that size until thou maketh and eateth a whole pan of brownies.

— Mandy Waysman

Mandy Waysman is a mother of two daughters and a husband whom she loves to pieces.  She blogs at Oh, Mandelynn. Her work can be found at In The Powder Room as well as Mamalode. She also contributes to Sammiches and Psych Meds.

Pies the limit

Connie BerryI’ve won every pie-eating contest I’ve entered. Granted, it’s only been twice.

This happened two years in a row at the Arnold Park picnic. I’m not entirely certain, but I think I was about 10 or 11 at the time. The second year, my little brother Eric won in his division.

What I do remember clearly is that we buried our faces in Hostess cherry fruit pies set up on picnic tables under the burning Midwestern sun. The winner in each age category was rewarded with several Hostess products and a $25 savings bond. I could use that $25 about now.

We had to go to the picnic every year because my dad was on the park board or something really important like that. Plus, there were rides and games and tons of junk food, hence the cherry fruit pies. That picnic was the mainstay of our summer vacation. The fact that my little brother managed to excel at pie eating and win alongside me was just icing on the cake for our family. Eric even got his picture taken by the Jefferson County Journal, hands behind his back, little body bent over with his face planted in the middle of the pie.

Cherry was my sister Carol’s favorite flavor, not mine. I was really an apple pie kind of girl. Luckily I managed to choke down the cherry pie regardless. Likely I would have broken some kind of world record had it been an apple pie-eating contest. Honestly, those days I would have emerged the victor of any dessert-eating contest.

We could have held stock in the Hostess company back then. Between the soft white goodness of Wonder Bread and the creamy surprise in the middle of the Ding Dongs, we certainly ate our share.

My sister loved the cherry fruit pies and the CupCakes. My older brother Steve ate half a loaf of Wonder Bread every day after school, and Eric was really a Ding Dong, Ho Ho kind of kid. Personally, I never met a Hostess product I didn’t like.

I even remember my Grandpa Westmoreland carrying the marshmallow-coconut-covered Sno Balls in his lunch every day. You have to peel the marshmallow cap off the Sno Balls to reveal the chocolate cream-filled cake mound — in case you didn’t know.

The only Hostess product I wasn’t entirely enamored with was the Twinkie. Looking back, it was probably because it didn’t contain any semblance of chocolate. I did, however, like flipping it over to see the underbelly, revealing the three holes where the cream went in. Sometimes I managed to put a Twinkie in my bag lunch in grade school. When I did, I always squished it in the wrapper and squeezed it out like one of those a Go-gurts you feed preschoolers nowadays.

Today, I feel the heat spread up my cheeks if I even hold a box of Ding Dongs in my hand. Who could possibly eat such a thing when organic almond flour is all the craze? Who would dare?

I’m thinking I could easily make this into some kind of personal challenge and fill my basket with every Hostess cake they still make. It’s important to test the boundaries.

— Connie Berry

Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she is copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. She lives on the island with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog, thejoblessgoddess.blogspot.com, from Syracuse.

What Erma Bombeck taught me
about my mother’s Alzheimer’s

Vincent O'Keefe(This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post on April 25, 2015. Reposted by permission of author Vincent O’Keefe.)

Entering the fog of Alzheimer’s, I speak slowly into the phone: “Your granddaughter wants to take guitar lessons. Got any tips?”

My 83-year-old mother, who took lessons decades ago, cackles: “She should do what I did — find the best-looking teacher she can!”

“Well, she’s 13, so that’s terrible advice. What kind of grandmother are you?”

We laugh together as she repeats her story about taking lessons to help her quit smoking while raising six children as a stay-at-home mother. She bypasses my daughter’s present situation because people with Alzheimer’s often have stronger command of their “deep” memories than more recent ones. Though in the disease’s early stages, she is starting to drift between time dimensions when I call the assisted-living facility.

My mother has always enjoyed humor, and since I became a stay-at-home father who writes parenting humor, our bond has grown stronger. Now our phone conversations often devolve into a cross-gender, cross-generational sitcom.

Out of curiosity, I recently decided to read a book my mother had always described as her favorite: Erma Bombeck’s If Life is a Bowl of Cherries — What Am I Doing in the Pits? From the opening line, I could see why Mom identified with Bombeck: “I’ve always worried a lot and frankly I’m good at it.” After joking that “I worry about scientists discovering someday that lettuce has been fattening all along,” Bombeck reveals the rub: “But mostly, I worry about surviving… That’s what this book is all about.”

Yes, humor is how my mother survived the worries of her life as well: raising six children, getting divorced after 28 years of marriage, suffering macular degeneration that ended her ability to read her beloved books and now enduring the onset of Alzheimer’s. By the end of the introduction, there was already a lump in my throat.

The book progresses via vignettes, and though some have lost relevance since their publication in 1971, many remain timely. Among the classics, Bombeck provides a Family Survival Manual on “Replacing [a] Toilet Tissue Spindle,” “Closing a Door,” “Turning Off a Light” and “Operating a Clothes Hamper.” Evergreen observations include “There, but for the grace of a babysitter go I,” and “There are some who say giving children responsibility makes them grow. There are others who contend it increases your insurance rates.”

Bombeck’s tone sobers, however, late in the book in a section about her own mother titled “When Did I Become the Mother and the Mother Become the Child?” She explains that the “transition comes slowly… The transferring of responsibility… As your own children grow strong and independent, the mother becomes more childlike.” The child “isn’t ready yet to carry the burden. But the course is set.”

It seemed my mother was speaking to me through the pages, only this time via pathos beside the humor, the pits beside the cherries. Alzheimer’s has certainly begun to take things away. My mother sometimes stops in the middle of our phone conversations and says simply: “I have no words.” She describes the “numbness” overcoming her and explains: “I can see what the disease is doing to me.” On the other end of the line, I have no words for a different reason.

In addition to words, Alzheimer’s has begun to take away the markers of time. My siblings and I now struggle with how to handle forgotten family birthdays. While we can acknowledge her grandchildren’s birthdays for her, our own birthdays are trickier: Out of respect for her dignity, do we remind her of our birthdays when she forgets, assuming she would want to know? Or do we spare her the guilt and pain she feels when reminded of a forgotten birthday? I have opted for the latter, though neither choice seems adequate.

On the other hand, the disease’s quality of timelessness sometimes bestows a blessing. In her lucid moments, Mom has confessed that her short-term memory loss enables her to worry less and laugh more. She speaks of the “gift” of being “suspended in time” with no pressure to remember things. Such moments of freedom — from time, worry, and the inhibitions of memory — are one of the cherries still left in her life.

Bombeck’s classic teaches that even late in life, the cherries are still there; we just have to dig deeper in the bowl. Indeed, such fruits are necessary for survival. A special way to reach them is by reading and sharing a loved one’s favorite book.

As I reread the lighter passages of my mother’s favorite to her over the phone, sometimes she was reminded of how she felt upon first reading them. Other times her changing brain processed them as if for the first time. In all cases, we shared a wonderful, funny, intimate experience: a perfect fruit for both of us.

— Vincent O’Keefe

Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph.D. in American literature. His writing has appeared in The New York Times ”Motherlode” blog, The Huffington PostThe Shriver ReportBrain, ChildThe Good Men Project and Role/Reboot, among other venues. He is seeking an agent for a humorous memoir about a decade of at-home parenting. Watch/read/listen to more of his work at www.vincentokeefe.com, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @VincentAOKeefe.

Men are from Mars, Women from Venus and grandkids from planet Zoltar

Bob NilesOur first grandchild was a bundle of sweetness and joy. She hardly ever cried. She slept a lot, and I think never even messed a diaper. She was always being held and cuddled because she thrived on love and kisses that were eagerly supplied by grandma.

So when we heard the news our other child was expecting, we were over the moon with anticipation. “This one will be better than the first!”

Ha! Were we wrong.

The second one cried and fussed all night and day. Never a moment’s peace. She wanted everything her way and at the very early age of six months began telling us so.

Then, two years later, our son with the best baby on earth announced they were expecting again. We were hesitant but optimistic for another dream child from him and his wife.

Wrong again! Twin boys. And with twin boys even if you wanted, or could snuggle with one, the other was off getting into trouble with the dog.

Twins aren’t a gift from God. They’re a test! They test everything you thought you knew, and were an expert on, about raising children. And after the first year of having twins, you are convinced that the only reason you were able to raise your own kids was from sheer luck. All your tried-and-true methods in child rearing are out the window.

Travel now ahead in time to the oldest’s eighth birthday party. She is still that sweet, quiet, little girl who tricked us into believing all grandkids are a breeze to help raise. She comes over to our house, sits down and starts drawing and coloring. And would stay there all day if left to her own devices.

Number two granddaughter is now five and has brushed death on several occasions — including, and not limited to, riding her bike off the seawall, crossing a bear, sailing on a boat and almost hitting a freighter, and falling off a dock in Greece. She has tempted life more than James Bond in any of his moves. Her volume is constantly set at 11, and she is always in  overdrive. She makes deals when asked to do anything: “Okay, I’ll do it but you have to…” And she continually asks why it has to be that way. Always to her, life is unfair.

Then there are the twins.

OMG! Their dad told me how one of them pooped on the floor and the other one picked it up and started to smear it in his brother’s hair. At play school one of them has become a kleptomaniac by stealing things from the teacher. We’re not sure which one because they both fit the description of the thief. And at home dad has learned how to remove and replace all three toilets as they have all been plugged with toys. And this all plays out while their sister sits downstairs and colors, and their cousin is off tempting death on her bike and chucking rocks at a bear.

Little boys and girls aren’t from Mars or Venus as the author of a famous book would suggest. They are from somewhere much farther out in the seemingly endless universe. Like Planet Zoltar and beyond. Zoltar

Little people who live this way can’t be from this solar system. Their thinking, actions and respect for life are so far from what we deem as normal. Why have we not placed them all into protective custody? They are scary.

When they come over  for a sleepover, they are sweet, respectful and kind for about five minutes. It’s about then that their hearing automatically stops. Their names means nothing to them. It’s like renaming your dog for a day after having it for five years. You get no response.

You need candy, chocolate, money or something bright and shiny to get a response. And even then, it can, and probably will, need to be repeated three times before its full content can be understood and a correct response or action is attained.

You need to tell them what you would like them to do, when you would like it done, where you want it done and how it should be done.

You just can’t say have a bath and get ready for bed. Because your idea of having a bath and getting ready for bed is so far from how they do it on Planet Zoltar and beyond. I’ve seen kids in the tub with and without water, in their clothes, having baths. And if you don’t mention to dry off after exiting the tub, it becomes your fault why the floor and comforter on the bed are wet. The brushing of teeth is not done on other planets apparently. And an alien from Zoltar and beyond has to sleep with everything she owns. But, after some deal making, we got it down to six fuzzy stuffed toys. But now  I have to take her and six fuzzy friends to McDonalds tomorrow for breakfast. It was getting late.  I caved in.

Five minutes later.

“Grandpa?” a little voice calls from upstairs. “I think Charlotte wants you.”

I mention this to the wife over the TV volume. She shoots up the stairs in a way that’s reminiscent of her high school track and field days. But then, all too quickly,  a deflated wife returns with the words, “It’s you she wants.”

“Nuts!” I climb the stairs in a way that’s reminiscent of yesterday. It still hurts.

“Grandpa, Dixie needs a drink,” she says. “She was flying so fast that she got thirsty and needed to go to the bathroom with a stomach ache. Mommy always let’s her watch TV when that happens.”

She then blinks twice because that’s probably how they hypnotize you on Zoltar and beyond.

“Who is Dixie?” That would be a proper response, but at this point I don’t care. It is probably the fuzzy-winged horse but, considering the source of the tall tail, it could be the almost fuzzy turtle or the umbrella stand. (What the…? Don’t care.)

“Okay let’s go to the bathroom and we’ll get you a drink while there,” I puff in exasperation. “What about the chocolate cookies and TV you promised to Dixie?” Blinking twice, I stammer, and, for a brief moment, show weakness and confusion. She knows she has me.

It’s now 10:30, and she and grandma are wrapped up on the couch with a blanket and the umbrella stand.

It was the umbrella stand!

Crumbs are all that’s left of two chocolate chip cookies that share a tray with a now half-empty glass of milk. Suddenly, the oldest grandchild appears as if by magic and scares the bejeebers out of me. Forgot she was even here! “Grandpa, guess what?” she crackles in a sleepy voice. “One of the boys wet the bed from the top of the dresser. How come Charlotte had cookies?” she asks, followed with a double blink.

Caught again with the Zoltar and beyond double blink! Now all four grandkids are on the couch snuggling with grandma, eating cookies and watching. …Well, it ain’t hockey!

Doggone little aliens from the Planet Zoltar and beyond.

— Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.

 

You’re doing fine, Oklahoma?

Leslie BlanchardMy 75-year-old mother just pulled out of my driveway this morning, headed back to Texas after a brief visit.

The nice thing about a visit from Mom is that she doesn’t arrive with an expectation to be entertained. Visiting my family is a pseudo business trip for her, so there’s no need to wine and dine her. I’ve come to realize that, while Mom is resigned to the fact that her adult children live out in the world on their own, she really believes that she is the Chief Operating Officer of an organization called Our Family. She works so exhaustively while she is here evaluating our operation that she can probably write the trip off on her taxes.

She is content to ride alongside me as I run my daily errands offering an audible audit  with suggestions on how to improve our overall functionality. We are assessed on categories ranging from primarily minor issues, such as profitability (“Why do you buy straws at the grocery store when you can simply grab a handful at Subway?”) to potentially major and life-threatening (“Good parents don’t let their children play football!!!”).

Here are just a few of the oversights from this week, in which we fell well below the expectations of the corporate office.

DRIVERS ED: FAIL

Just because YOU are behind the wheel of the car, and, at a glance, appear to be the driver, one must understand that if Mom is anywhere in the car, seniority prevails and SHE is the actual driver.

Doris is the original Siri. She doesn’t have to hide in your cell phone like a coward to tell you which way to turn. She tells you WHEN to turn your blinker on, WHEN to execute the turn, WHERE to park once you’ve mastered the turn sequence, and how close to get to the other cars around you. She expresses white-knuckles-on-the-dashboard concern each and every time I pull into my garage (a relatively unchallenging maneuver that I manage to perform successfully several times a day, even when she isn’t in town). As we are driving down the road, she will often shriek loudly if another car gets within several hundred feet of us; I’m sure that’s to check my responses and reflexes.

“Driving Miss Doris” is truly an interactive experience and definitely not for the easily intimidated.

CHILD PROTECTION/CHILD ENDANGERMENT: NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

In addition to our typical schedule of football practice and games, basketball practice and games, carpool, groceries and other Mother Minutia, this week provided the additional challenge of an MRI on my son’s recent football injury, along with the requisite orthopedic consultations and discussions about whether or not to have a surgery, which would allow him to continue to play football in his senior year.

This afforded Mom the opportunity to assess our competence during a real-life “parenting dilemma” and grade us on our overall handling of this situation. We seemed to score slightly better here than in the driving category, but that’s because my husband was involved, which falsely inflated my score. (Mom is enamored with my husband and it’s quite obvious that somewhere through the years, her memory has played a trick on her and she genuinely thinks she raised HIM and didn’t meet ME until our wedding).

Every conversation we had about the pros and cons of the shoulder surgery prompted Grandma to shake her head in disappointment and insert such Pearls of Wisdom as, “If he injures his shoulder again, he won’t do well on the ACT and get into a good college!” Rebuttals such as, “Grandma, his shoulder doesn’t affect his brain functioning,” were dismissed as flimsy excuses and further evidence of weak and inept parenting skills.

HOME SECURITY: SUBSTANDARD 

There was a ton of controversy a while back over security at the White House, culminating with the resignation of Julia Pierson, director of the Secret Service. The administration simply had the wrong person in charge of security detail. If you really want to keep the White House safe, fire all those Secret Service agents and hire a widow in her 70s, like Mom.

She is positively convinced that someone is attempting to break into our home, all day, every day. To steal exactly what, she doesn’t say. She was appalled by our inexplicable security breeches. She kept telling me to lock the doors and finally I said (exasperated), “But Mom, Tommy is out on the driveway shooting baskets. Won’t we then be, in effect, locking him out there with all the Bad Guys???” (Can I get a few points added back into my Child Protection/Child Endangerment category for this vigilant maternal observation?)

Yesterday, I took the trash can out to the street and was literally locked out of my house when I attempted to re-enter just two short minutes later. I stood there knocking on my OWN door and ringing my OWN doorbell. Eventually, she came to the door and yelled in a terrified voice, “WHO IS IT?” To which I responded (admittedly agitated), “It’s me, Mom, your daughter, the homeowner.”  Reluctantly, she let me in.

I can’t imagine how stressful it must’ve been for her to depart this morning and relinquish her own children and grandchildren to such an unacceptable level of reckless living standards. But, alas, she can’t spend all her time in Oklahoma. She’s got to get down to Texas and Louisiana, where my sister and brother are surely doing God only knows what to their kids, homes and cars.

I should probably warn my siblings to lock their doors.

— Leslie Blanchard

Leslie Blanchard is a wife of one and mother of five, who writes the blog, A Ginger Snapped: Facing The Music of Marriage And Motherhood. After she received a journalism degree, she became the “Wind Beneath My Husband’s Wings” and didn’t write anything for 27 years, except her family’s Christmas letter. All that changed with the invention of the iPad with a waterproof cover. Now, she lays in the bathtub all day, neglecting her other responsibilities, and writes about life outside the tub. Her essays are titled after songs because, as she and her hubby puzzle through a marriage or child-rearing problem, they sing the song that particular issue reminds them of (with a pertinent lyric change here or there).

Mom, dead presidents and rock & roll

Myron KuklaIt was the summer of 1998 and my mother, who was 83, was visiting. My son Matt, 20, was also home from college. Counting my wife Madeline and I, we had three generations living under one roof and that lead to some very interesting intergenerational, family discussions. 

One day Matt came home from work and put the stereo on to blast out some of his favorite songs. I’m used to it, but the sudden wall of sound caused my mother to jump out of her chair, spin around three times, grab her heart and shout.

Mom: What’s that noise? Is it an earthquake? Is the world ending?

Matt: (lowering the stereo) That’s just the “Dead Presidents.”

Mom: The “deaf” presidents.

Matt: No, it’s the “Dead Presidents.”

Mom: Which ones?

Me: Probably Harding, Johnson and Millard Fillmore.

Matt: Who are they?

Mom: I think they’re presidents, Matt. Weren’t you saying something about presidents?

Matt: Yes, the Dead Presidents. They’re a musical group.

Mom: Well, if that’s music, they need more practice.

Matt: That’s their sound, grandma.

Mom: It sounds like noise to me. In my day, we had real songs like In the Mood and Moonlight Serenade.  And good musicians like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Guy Lombardo. They made beautiful music. Why don’t they make songs like that anymore?

Matt: I think it’s because they died.

Mom: I mean the music. No one writes pretty songs anymore.

Me: It’s probably because they wrote all the good songs back then and there’s none left to do.

Mom: You mean all the good songs have been written?

Me: Right, and so the musicians had to move on and create new music like rock and roll.

Mom: Noise.

Me: Hey, I may agree with you about Matt’s music, but now you’re talking about my music. It was great stuff.

Mom: What great stuff? Elvis swiveling his hips (she does an imitation of Elvis swinging his hips) and singing, “I ain’t nothing but a hot dog.”

Me: That’s Hound Dog.

Matt: And, besides, he’s dead, too.

Me:  We had some of the greatest musical groups of all times when I was growing up.  We had the Beach Boys and the Beatles.

Mom: What did they sing that was so good?

Me: The Beach Boys sang Little Deuce Coup and Good Vibrations. The Beatles did I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Sgt. Pepper.

Mom: Noise.

Matt: Elevator music.

Me: Top 40 Golden Oldies.

Matt: TV commercial jingles.

Me: Classic Oldies.

Mom: More noise.

Me: Look, I’m going to get my 45s and show you both.

Mom: What’s he doing?

Matt:  He’s getting a 45. It’s a gun. Rock music has driven him crazy, grandma.

Me: No, mom. They’re records. Music used to come on 45 rpm records.

Mom: Ours came out of a Victrola.

Matt: What’s a Victrola?

Me: It’s a record player. You’ve seen the picture with the spotted dog listening to the machine with the cone on top. That’s a Victrola.

Matt: So how did it play music?

Me: They used these big records called 78s that played the music.

Matt: Oh, like CDs.

Mom: They play music on Certificates of Deposits? When we had CDs they just paid seven percent interest. We didn’t get any music with our CDs.

Me: No, mom. A CD stands for Compact Disc. It’s like a small record album that uses a laser to play the music.

Mom: Well, we didn’t have no lasers in my day. They played music the old-fashioned way, with instruments. Like Glen Miller and his band. I used to love their song Pennsylvania 6-5000.

Matt: Isn’t that where the presidents live?

Mom: Which ones?

Matt: All of them.

Me: That’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mom: No, I’m pretty sure it was “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

Matt: Wasn’t there a movie by that name?

Me: That was “Transylvania 6-5000.”

Mom: Isn’t that where the White House is?

Matt: No, it’s in Washington D.C.

Mom: I could have sworn it was “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

Me: That was a song.

Mom: I know it was a song.

Matt: How’d it go?

Mom: It went: “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

Matt: And….?

Me: That was it, Matt, All they sang was a phone number. And she thinks Elvis lyrics were bad.

Mom: It was enough.

Matt: Who’s phone number was it anyway?

Mom: Probably the President’s number. He lives on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Matt and Me: Which president?

Mom: One of the dead ones.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a Midwest freelance writer. He is the author of several books of humor, including Guide to Surviving Lifeand is a regular contributor to Bestversionmedia and the Erma Bombeck blog. Email him at myronkuklabooks@gmail.com or follow his blog, The Writings and Musings of Myron J. Kukla.

Chloe and Poppie go to the aquarium

Jerry-Zezima1-219x300My granddaughter, Chloe, who just turned 2, doesn’t know yet that her Poppie is fishy. And it didn’t seem to bother her that I’m all wet, too, when we took a trip recently to see some fine finny, flippered, feathered, furry and flighty friends at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, N.Y.

Accompanying us on this exciting excursion were my younger daughter, Lauren, known to Chloe as Mommy, and my son-in-law Guillaume, aka Daddy.

When we arrived on a weekday morning, a couple of seals were already up (they start work early) and looking for breakfast in their outdoor exhibit.

“They’re gray seals,” an aquarium staffer said.

“They should use Miss Clairol,” I replied. “It would make them look younger.”

“Do you know the difference between seals and sea lions?” she asked.

“The spelling?” I guessed.

“Well, yes,” the staffer answered. “But seals don’t have ear flaps.”

“I suppose that means they don’t wear earrings,” I said.

“No,” the staffer said.

“That’s OK,” I said. “They still have my seal of approval.”

Chloe smiled.

Lauren rolled her eyes and said, “Come on, Dad. Let’s go inside.”

At the front desk, Lauren and Guillaume got in for free because they have an aquarium pass. Chloe also was admitted at no charge. My admission was $22.

“You could have gotten a senior citizen discount,” Lauren said after I had paid with a card.

“I already gave you one,” the young woman at the desk told me.

“Is it that obvious?” I asked.

“I do my job very well,” she said as she handed me a receipt for $20.

Chloe took me by the hand and we capered off. The exhibit she seemed to like best was the butterfly garden, where the colorful winged creatures flitted toward, past and all around us. From overhead pipes came an occasional spray of water to keep the humidity level just right.

“I should have brought soap,” I told another staffer. “Then I could take a shower.”

Next door was the aviary, where playful parrots perched.

“This is for the birds!” I said to Chloe.

She giggled and took me by the hand again so we could catch up to Mommy and Daddy, who had made their way to the shark tank, watery home to all kinds of fish, including — what were the chances? — sharks.

“These are nurse sharks,” I said. “There are no doctor sharks, but if you get bitten, you can sue and hire one of the sharks as your lawyer.”

I also pointed out a clownfish.

“Who’s a clownfish?” I asked Chloe.

“Poppie!” she answered correctly.

Then she led me through a couple of tunnels only big enough, supposedly, for kids. Outside, there was another tunnel, this one in the otter exhibit.

“There are two otters,” I told Chloe. “The first one and the otter one.”

Lauren and Guillaume groaned. Chloe giggled. Then she climbed into a child-size hot rod to pose for a picture.

Back inside, we saw stingrays, which were swimming in a pool.

“Do you know what all of them are named?” I asked.

“What?” said Guillaume.

“Ray.”

“I’m going to throw you in there with them,” Lauren said.

“I would be shocked,” I retorted.

Chloe may not have understood the depth — we were, after all, in an aquarium — of Poppie’s puns, but she was endlessly amused.

Then it was time for lunch. Chloe had her favorite: chicken nuggets and French fries.

“No fish?” I asked. “There are plenty to choose from.”

When lunch was over, Chloe was tired, but she wasn’t ready to go home. She  wanted to have more fun.

“Go to Poppie,” Guillaume told her.

“Poppie!” Chloe exclaimed as she jumped into my arms.

But it was, indeed, time to go, despite Chloe’s protests.

“We’ll come back,” I promised her as we walked out. “And Poppie will bring some Miss Clairol for the seals.”

— 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 McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Unappreciated benefits of breastfeeding:
A highly scientific and totally real list

Peyton PriceMany benefits of breastfeeding have been recognized in the literature, although some benefits are not well known. For example, according to undocumented anecdotal reports from unidentified and highly questionable sources with top-secret conspiracy agendas, infants who are breastfed are:

• 48% more likely to appear in The New York Times (news pages, 17% for Sunday Magazine).

• 22% more likely to be supertasters.

• 31% more likely to use French phrases in conversation unnecessarily.

• 19% more likely to volunteer for interplanetary travel.

• 70% more likely to star in eponymous reality shows.

• 36% more likely to summit Mount Everest (1.9% without the assistance of Sherpa).

• 81% more likely to acquire impressive looking home libraries.

• 15% more likely to gain, then lose, incredible fortunes (12% more than once).

• 97% more likely to become Olympic competitors for hard-to-spell countries.

• 29% less likely to become Internet humorists.

— Peyton Price

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind The Picket Fence, even though she was bottle fed. You can find the poor thing failing to live up to her potential on Facebook and at suburbanhaiku.com.

Reflections of Erma