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

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Laughter and light

Tedford, Michelle (This piece will appear in the summer issue of the University of Dayton Magazine.)

It was three days full of belly-laughing, donkey-snorting, mascara-running good times with 350 humor writers from around the country.

And there I was, sitting in Sears Recital Hall, trying not to cry.

A fellow attendee at UD’s biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop had just stood up. Her name was Kate. She had come here from Newtown, Conn. “I was funny and lost my funny,” she told us as we rummaged our pockets for tissues. “I came here to find it again.”

We knew she hadn’t just lost it. This writer had her funny ripped from her in her own hometown by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. When would it be OK, she wondered, to laugh again?

It’s when life makes us ask such question that we need laughter the most.

At the workshop’s keynote dinner, Phil Donahue reminded us of the power of laughter as he talked about his good friend, the late Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49. The father of daytime talk shows and the mother of misadventures had been neighbors in Centerville, Ohio, each raising stair-step children while launching their careers.

In her writing, he said, was an honesty that touched the world. She popped balloons of pretense with daggers of laughter. Her humor was revolutionary.

“Motherhood was sacred,” Donahue said as he intoned popular sentiment: “‘Oh, how blessed you are. Oh, what a wonderful mother you are.’ Mothers were on pedestals. And Erma would do a column something like, ‘I am going to sell my children.’ She punctured that pretense, and she was speaking for millions of women.”

My own mother taped Bombeck’s words to our goldenrod-yellow refrigerator door — not the words about selling us, as far as I can remember, though I certainly would have deserved it for digging a pond in the backyard and filling it with frogs, which attracted crows from three counties.

Millions of women also taped Bombeck to their fridges, taking strength from the joys of an imperfect life with this sister who cautioned us to never have more children than we have car windows. It is a community that stretches through the miles and across the decades and that, every two years, materializes at UD, where a young Erma was told by her English professor, “You can write.”

This April, Donahue repeated the phrase, adding a charge to use our words to move mountains. “We have an assembly of people of conscience here … and you may just be the people who will make our lives better,” he said.

With their words and their support, the attendees embraced Kate from Newtown, who later wrote, “My three days in Dayton were extraordinary, and when the laughter died down I learned this above all: the line between tragedy and comedy does exist, and while laughing in the face of any horror is nearly impossible, the only way through the tears and darkness is with laughter and light.”

— Michelle Tedford

Michelle Tedford is the editor of the University of Dayton Magazine.

How to compliment your wife

Vikki ClaflinIn an earlier conversation with Hubs:

Me: “Does this bra make my boobs look perkier?”

Hubs: “Perkier than what?”

Me: “Perkier than before.”

Hubs: “Before what?”

Me: “This isn’t a trick question.”

Hubs: “Okay. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t think you should worry about it. We’re all getting older, you know, and I think you look great no matter what your boobs look like.”

Me: “What a horrible, mean thing to say!”

Hubs: “I was trying to give you a compliment!”

Me: “Well, you suck at it.”

Hubs: “For the love of God, woman, next time give me cue cards.”

I can do that.

Dashing down to my computer, I quickly typed up Hubs’ Guide for Complimenting His Wife.

Assuming we’ve moved past the construction site approach, including  the juvenile (“Nice rack, baby”) or the cheesy (“You have eyes a man could drown in”), neither of which is particularly effective on girls over 23 and who don’t work at Hooters, let’s begin with the basics.

1. Compliments should make us feel wanted, appreciated and absolutely gorgeous. Every now and then, we want to feel like you still see us the way you did when we were first in love. Before the kids, our jobs, the mortgage payments, the dogs, the bills, the laundry, our birthdays and gravity all piled up and we swapped our thongs and stilettos for yoga pants and t-shirts.

2. Be brief. Don’t ramble. A girlfriend once told me that the best compliment she ever received from her husband was a single word. She came out of the bedroom, dressed for date night and a bit self-conscious in her rarely worn strappy little black dress. He stopped, looked at her for a moment and said, “Wow.” (That night was the best sex they’d had for months. Personally, I don’t believe in coincidences.)

3. Be specific. “You’re pretty” is great, but “That dress makes your legs look a mile long” will be happily repeated to her BFF tomorrow morning over coffee, and you’ll look like a rock star.

4. Pay Attention. Assuming she at least occasionally does something that surprises or impresses you (if not, that’s another discussion entirely), mention it. “You’re so patient with your little niece. You handled it beautifully when she set your office on fire” or “You were great with my parents today.” And “thank you for not decking Uncle Buck when he pinched your ass at our wedding…twice” will go a long way towards making her feel special.

5.  Surprise her. A spontaneous “I’m glad I married you” while you’re watching TV will put an instant smile on her face. In other words, don’t save it for when you want to get laid or you’re trying to end an argument.

6. Try to make the compliment about her. “Great boots” is nice, but “You look hot in those boots” is much better.

7. Tell the truth. Unless you’ve been living in a shack in the Ozark mountains your entire life, with no cable or Internet service, “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen” is going to sound phony to any woman but Angelina Jolie. She knows that’s not true, and now you have a credibility issue. It’s like parents who tell their child he’s the smartest person in the world. Sooner or later, little Billy is going to find out Mommy and Daddy were lying and now he doesn’t believe a word they say. Pick something that’s actually true about her. “You have a beautiful smile” (when, in fact, she does) is a better choice.

8. Avoid backhanded compliments. These are not compliments. They’re insults that start out slowly. “You can speak French?? Wow. I never would have guessed.” Bite me, jackass. “A woman should be curvy. You look healthy.” I guarantee you we just heard, “You’re fat, but I’m not stupid enough to say that.” Hope you like sleeping on the couch. “Love your new haircut, babe. Your face doesn’t look as round.” By now she’s thinking, “OMG. So all this time, I’ve been walking around with a pumpkin head, and only now you’re telling me??” This is where “Shoot the messenger” came to be. These are passive-aggressive shots and should be limited to no more than, well…none, if you want to stay married to this woman.

9. When in doubt, tell her she looks thinner than usual. Surveys report that 43% of women said that’s their favorite compliment ever. “You look so thin” will have us singing your praises all over town.

10. A few other tried and trues that men should always have in their Things I Should Say to My Wife More Often rolodex include: “You look gorgeous.” “I love your body.” “You’re the most beautiful woman here tonight.” “I’m proud to be seen with you.” “I like the way you think.” There are others, but consider this your starter set, which should keep you going for the next few weeks.

When my son, Jake, was young, I instructed him very carefully about what to say when a woman asks about her appearance. To this day, whenever he sees me dressed up or in something new, he smiles and says, “Mom, that outfit makes you look younger and thinner.” You’re going to go far, kid.

And now, in a recent conversation with Hubs:

Me: “I’m using a new cream. How does my skin look?”

Hubs: “Fine.

Me: “Fine??”

Hubs: “Oh, actually you look stunning, and I wish I could stay home and stare at you all day, repeatedly reminding myself what a lucky, lucky man I am.”

Me (with a bright smile, deliberately choosing to ignore the almost-imperceptible eye roll and snort-laugh that accompanied that statement): “Thank you, sweetie. I love you, too!”

Now, was that so hard??

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in Life Well Blogged: Parenting Gag Reels — Hilarious Writes and Wrongs: Take 26.

Sometimes, dreams do come true

ermine_cunningham(This was inspired by a news report of a 9-year-old boy who got past two security checkpoints, had no ticket and managed to fly to Las Vegas on his own.)

Last Friday morning, veteran Minneapolis teacher Giselle Schumacher thought it was too good to be true when she heard the news bulletin on her car radio.  This would be her last year of teaching — number 36 — and she didn’t know if she was going to make it to Thanksgiving, let alone to the end of the school year. But she believed with all her might that God works in mysterious ways.

Giselle wasn’t as energetic in the classroom as she had been 20 or 30 years ago, but she still ran a tight ship, and her students learned. She’d had her share of problem kids, and even they managed to turn their attitudes around because of the skillful classroom management and loving support of  “Mrs. S.”  Thankfully, the never-ending supply of hardheads from the Keister family, 11 kids total, every last one of them sullen and stubborn, had finally ended last year. Mrs. Schumacher’s fervent wish was that this final year would be a stellar one to cap her successful career.

This last class of fourth-graders was almost perfect: 24 polite, eager-to-learn 9-year-olds, so cooperative they almost made her reconsider the decision to retire. However, the diminutive, salt-and-pepper-haired Mrs. S. believed strongly in “quitting while you’re ahead.” Three weeks ago, however, Principal Wimple had thrown a huge fly in the ointment: Brendan Folts. The two of them appeared at her door one Friday afternoon, and it had been chaos in Room 214 ever since.

“Mrs. Schumacher, this is Brendan Folts. He’s having some difficulties in Ms. Pawnley’s room, so he’s being assigned to your class. He needs more structure, right, Brendan? Here’s his folder.”

This was nothing new to Mrs. S.; she worked magic, or so it seemed, with difficult children. This time, though, a chill ran down her spine when Brendan looked her squarely in the eye. He was a handsome child, fine-featured and dressed in the latest style, but it was clear a change was in the air — a big one.

The first week, Brendan disappeared from the classroom at random times; Mrs. S. would be teaching a lesson on homonyms or expanded form place value at the smartboard (still hard for her to get used to), and turn around to see his empty chair. “Where is Brendan?” she’d ask the class. No one ever knew. She would buzz the office to report him missing, and within a short time, he would reappear, explaining that he’d needed the bathroom and “didn’t want to interrupt the lesson” or “was afraid he’d have an accident.” By the end of the week, Mrs. S. was totally frazzled.

In the second week with Brendan, he went missing more frequently, and sometimes was found walking nonchalantly at the end of another teacher’s class on their way to gym or music. Once a cafeteria aide noticed him sitting with a kindergarten class eating a second lunch and returned him to Room 214.

Mrs. Schumacher set up a meeting with his parents, but they missed it; could they reschedule it to next week?

Although she tried her best to connect with Brendan, he reminded her of Eddie Haskell from “Leave It to Beaver,” sickeningly polite to her face, but bad to the bone in reality. She tried very hard to watch him at all times and began getting muscle spasms in her neck from whipping it around so quickly. When he disappeared just before lunch on Thursday, she shouted into the intercom for Mr. Wimple to cover the class. As soon as he rounded the corner, she took off down the hall to nab the little rascal, wherever he was. Mrs. S. finally located him in the basement custodian’s office, teaching a group of youngsters how to play blackjack.

Judging by the size of his pile of chips, Brendan obviously had excellent math skills.

Even though she wanted to escort him to the office by his ear, she refrained from touching him. He followed her like a little lamb and took a seat to wait for Mr. Wimple.

When she got home from school, Mrs. S. kicked off her shoes, poured herself a large glass of Chablis and collapsed onto the couch. There was no Mr. Schumacher to encourage her — he worked long hours at his plumbing business — so she gave herself a pep talk, reviewed her lesson plans for Friday and went to bed before nine.

She got an early start and was out the door by 6:45 a.m. Dreading the next disappearing act Brendan would pull, she switched on the 7 a.m. news as a distraction.

“A 9-year-old  boy from Minneapolis somehow got by three levels of security at the airport yesterday and flew to Las Vegas by himself. He had managed to get by TSA and gate agents onto the plane. After takeoff, flight attendants became suspicious of the child, who had no ticket and gave his name as, ‘Samson Knight.’ He stated that his parents were in the back of the plane. “Sam” will be handed over to authorities in Las Vegas for further questioning.”

A smile slowly grew on Mrs. Schumacher’s face, and she began to hum along with the radio. It would be a good day in Room 214.

— Ermine Cunningham

Ermine Cunningham taught English as a second language to refugee children in Syracuse, N.Y.,  and is now having a blast in the humor writer biz. She completed a two-year writing program in creative nonfiction at the Downtown Writers Center in 2013. She blogs at Odds & Ends from Ermigal and is putting the final touches on her soon-to-be-published book, Pretend You Know What You’re Doing — My Voyage from Teacher to Humor Writer.

Mr. Bojangles

Anne BardsleyJune 18, 1967, started out like any other Saturday morning. My alarm had buzzed twice, and I was still in bed. Herman’s Hermits were singing my favorite song on the clock radio, “Something tells me I’m into something good.”

My mother’s shrill voice interrupted my dream of Herman. “Get out of bed. Now! Candy stripers are important volunteers. You can’t be late on your first day.” Then she started the usual warnings, “Don’t talk to strangers. Be careful. Make sure you get bus number 142. Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you and Mariah?”

“Mom, no!” I protested. “We want to take the bus.”

Mariah was waiting for me at the corner of our old grade school. We’d be 14 and freshmen in the fall, so we felt very grown up. There we stood in our freshly starched red-and-white-striped uniforms. Sporting thick-soled shoes, we had more support on our feet than in our bras.

Right on time, old number 142 rattled to our stop. The bus was full, so we made our way to the very back, away from all the old people who were coughing and making disgusting noises.

At the next bus stop, an elderly man, looking worn and ragged, struggled up the steps. He banged his suitcase and an old crate against each row of seats. We snickered at the sight of him.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that this could be the stranger my mother had warned me about. My heart began to pound. I was in a state of panic when he sat down right next to me. I froze.

Before I could plan my escape, he let out a loud sigh, turned to me, and said, “Good morning,” rather pleasantly.

I could barely look at him. He smelled old, and his teeth were crooked. His hair hadn’t seen shampoo in quite some time. His tan plaid trousers were so worn that small holes dotted his pant leg.

As we reached the next stop, I heard a sharp yelping noise come from the rusty crate. A pair of brown, beady eyes stared at me.

The old man crooned softly to the creature. “Oh, so you want to meet the girls? Come on then.” He gingerly lifted out an adorable and equally ragged small mutt. He lifted her gently and introduced us to Gracie. The old stranger had come to life. His blue eyes sparkled, and his smile broadened. He handed Gracie to me and her warm body fit in the curve of my arm. She was a rumpled mess of grizzled blonde fur. Her eyes hid behind tufts of slightly matted hair, and her little paws were spreading specks of dirt onto my newly starched uniform. He grinned and asked me, “Would you like to dress her?”

Before I could answer, he lifted the suitcase onto his lap. It was brown, blotchy and covered with faded stickers from Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana. Inside, he had it neatly partitioned into two sections.

His part of the suitcase held a few plaid shirts and pants. Gracie, on the other hand, had a complete wardrobe of colorful dresses, bonnets and bows. I looked from the suitcase and back into his eyes. I heard myself ask, “Can I dress her?”

I chose a frilly pink-and-white dress with layers of worn crinoline underneath. It had a dainty pearl necklace sewn into the collar. Mariah handed me the matching white hat. Gracie sat ever so still, offering her paws, one at a time, as her thin legs slipped through the armholes. I buttoned the dress very carefully. She didn’t even flinch when I tied her bonnet. Her fuzzy ears poked through the slits, and she looked gorgeous!

As if on cue, she jumped off my lap and sat at the old man’s feet. He was lost in time now, leaning back, legs sprawled and smiling to himself. This little mutt charmed my friend and me, and the man knew it. He looked into our eyes, and with a twinkling smile, he reached into his ripped pocket and pulled out a weathered harmonica. He put the old harpoon to his lips, and with a wink of his eye, he started the show. A lively rendition of “Old Susannah” filled the back of the bus. Gracie was transformed into a showgirl. Ever so gracefully, her fur-balled little body twirled like a ballerina. Her front paws moved in the air as she spun to the music.

By now, everyone in the entire back of the bus was enjoying the show. We all clapped and laughed as they finished their performance. All too soon, our destination, the Bryn Mawr Hospital, came into view. I wanted to stay on the bus and let the show go on, but duty was calling.

The old man reached into his pocket and said, “Here’s something for your trouble. Buy yourselves a soda.”

“Oh, we couldn’t take your money, sir. Buy Gracie some bones with it,” I said, as I waved goodbye and stepped to the curb.

Every day for the rest of that summer, I would look for the two of them to get back on the bus, but they never did. I’m sure by now that he and Gracie are in heaven. I wonder how many lives they touched on their journey.

For a long time, I felt so guilty; my initial thoughts about him were so unkind. After 40 years, the memory of that silly little dog in a dress and that smiling old man still warms my heart. I keep them safely tucked away on a shelf in my heart. Maybe one day, I’ll make a similar lasting impression in someone else’s life.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

My boobs are full of surprises

Mary WiddicksThe other day, as I was getting ready for bed, I found a red M&M in my bra.

My 3-year-old had been throwing some up in the air trying to catch them in his mouth, and I guess his aim was worse than we thought. It had, as the ’80s commercials promised, not melted. It had, however, left a little red stain on my skin. I looked at it, confused for a moment how it had gotten there, shrugged my shoulders and ate it. After all, chocolate is chocolate no matter how long it has spent in my cleavage.

Since becoming a parent, I have been surprised by finding a number of unusual items tucked away in various places on my body. I’m not sure whether my boobs have gotten larger or my clothes have gotten baggier, but my bra appears to have become some sort of black hole, sucking in objects that drift too close to its enormous mass.

I once spent an entire day at a child’s birthday part with a matchbox car in the left cup of my bra, under my boob, and I didn’t even know it. I haven’t seen the underside of my bra without a mirror since I stopped wearing training bras, but I’m fairly sure that the outside world would have noticed the faint outline of a 2002 Volkswagen golf protruding from my breast. Even my boobs can’t afford luxury cars.

The worst part of the matchbox-car-in-the-bra incident was that it wasn’t even my son’s car. He had been driving his friend’s cars along my arms and chest while I desperately tried to ignore him and hold an adult conversation with another mother at the party. I’m not sure whether he did it to get my attention or whether the car just fell into the abyss in my shirt, but it was then lost for the rest of the party. I then had to send an email to the host of the party admitting that my son had smuggled toys across the border on my person. I felt like a drug mule.

In the last three years I’ve found the tips of crayons, caps of markers, Cheerios and, one very fine morning, I even found a quarter plastered to the inside of my boob. My bra seems to have replaced the sofa cushions as the catch-all for junk nobody wants in our house. So far, that quarter is the only contribution of value my bra has provided, but I’m still holding out hope that one day I’ll find a 20 lurking in there. I might be in the wrong profession for that, though.

This afternoon, my 9-month-old attempted to cram an entire chicken strip down my shirt to save for later, but unfortunately his efforts lacked subtlety. He looked at me as though to say, “What? I thought that’s where food came from.” I guess he was looking for some variety next time he nursed. I handed it back to him, and he promptly fed it to the dogs. What a waste of a perfectly good chicken strip. At least if he had left it in my bra, I could have eaten it later.

I’m considering contacting Stephen Hawking regarding my developing theory that my boobs are, in fact, the center of the universe. I’m not really sure how these things work, but I’ll be expecting my Nobel Prize to arrive in the mail shortly thereafter. Black holes don’t exist? Try doing my laundry for a few weeks. Now that I’ve solved that mystery of the universe, I’ll see what I can do about the missing socks.

Hang on, I’ll check my bra…

— Mary Widdicks

Mary Widdicks is a 31-year-old mother of two boys and two male dogs. Once a cognitive psychologist, she now spends the majority of her time trying to outsmart her kids (and failing!). She is the writer behind the humorous parenting blog Outmanned, where she turns for entertainment when she can’t take any more fart jokes or belching contests. Her writing has been featured on parenting sites such as Mamapedia, Mamalode and Scary Mommy.  She is a regular contributor on BLUNTmoms and has been honored as a 2014 Voice of the Year by BlogHer.

Phly Shoe, Shoo

CharlieD'ohI bought some shoes at K-Mart because they were cheap. They looked comfortable — and they are comfortable — and so I was happy with my new shoes because I was now comfortably among a special class of people: People with boat shoes on their feet.

I don’t really have a boat — though I do want one. I’m guessing most men who wear boat shoes don’t have a boat either. I believe this whole thing got started by people who maybe once did own a boat at one time and started buying this style of shoe.  My guess is that it makes you look rich if you wear a boat shoe because you are of a class of people rich enough to own a boat.

A boat shoe is a kind of tie-up/loafer, a contradiction of implicit terms, if you ask me.  I’m not sure of this, but I think it was because of the paradoxical nature of the shoe that I wanted them — I thought even the cheap shoe looked rich. And so I liked my new boat shoes until I got home.

“They look so cheap,” my wife said. “Look, they are already shredding. …And that’s fake leather.”

“But I like them,” I said. “I can just trim those loose threads.”

“Well, please, please don’t wear them to the wedding,” she said.

My oldest daughter is getting married. So the next day  I had to go get some more expensive boat shoes.

If you go in the shoe stores, there are all kinds of boat shoes on the shelves now. There are boat shoes of canvas, leather, fake leather, fake canvas and a kind of mesh, of either dark, tan and sandy hues, some nautical shades of blue and green, some with white soles, some with dark soles, some with soles made out of rope, some with rawhide laced around the edges, etc.

While I was in the shoe store looking at the boat shoes, my wife came in with a bag from another shoe store. “I got these on sale for you,” she said. “What do you think?  Tell the truth.  I want you to get what you want.”

I didn’t like them too much, though the sale price was appealing. Basically, I didn’t like them because they didn’t look enough like a boat shoe. That is, it was just one kind of material and no rawhide and it just looked rather like a loose-fitting shoe. Actually, it looked cheap.

“I was thinking of these,” I said, pointing to a jaunty little number made from four different kinds of material and kind of curled up at the toe.

She looked at them, expressionless. “You can’t wear them to the party. You know that, right?”

Frankly, I had thought I could wear them to the party. Soon there were three pairs of tan-colored loafers in the new style on the floor — shoes with exaggerated length from the instep way past the toes, which are squared off kind of like an extra-wide cowboy boot.  Then, somehow, the subject turned to dark-colored shoes.

“I thought you liked the tan shoes,” I said. “Why did you ask me to put on the tan shoes?”

I had tried on one pair, but they had bright stitching, to which she objected. “I can fix that with some shoe polish,”  I observed, but she scowled at me. That’s when I found the Rockports — same style but without the bright stitching. I thought they would appeal to her because they are $20 more expensive, and they did, but then she changed her mind. “They look too sporty,” she observed. “You need some dark shoes.”

“I have some dark shoes,” I said. “I have the black tie-ups, and I have the weejuns. Plus I have that pair you bought for me last month that I don’t like, and I have the old Bostonians in the tub in closet. The weejuns are dark mahogany. I can wear those.”

“You can’t wear those with your suit at your daughter’s wedding.”  She stalked off to the men’s formal shoe section and came back with a very shiny dark mahogany shoe with tassles.

“Here, you should wear this,“ she said. “You can’t wear your weejuns to the wedding,” she explained, “because the women will be wearing gowns.”

“Huh?” I said, “I’ve got to wear shoes with tassels because the women will be wearing gowns?” That’s when she walked out.

“Good-bye,” she said, “I cannot deal with you.” She went one way down the long aisle of boat shoes, and I returned to the pile of rejected shoes on the floor behind me. When I rounded the corner, there she was.

“Why don‘t you buy them anyway?” she said.  “You can bring them back tomorrow.”

— CharlieD’oh

Charlie Sneed blogs under the nom de plume of CharlieD’oh. In the past, he has actually been paid to write stuff, but this was in another time and place when he was functioning as a newspaper reporter, and there were “employers” who published news on paper. He turned to blogging as his hair turned gray because blogging takes less energy than journalism. You can read his blog here.

Catch is a contact sport

Hillary IberraOne spring my dad spray-painted a baseball diamond on the grass near the walnut trees in our yard. Our family played a game nearly every day. Usually Dad pitched, and we kids would see how many bases we could run before Rueben, Dad’s dog, caught the ball in his mouth and ran it back to the pitcher. (I can tell you, that Labrador was some great outfielder!)

When I came up to bat, Mom often helped me swing. Sometimes my big brother Nate pitched, and Dad helped me bat. One time, however, I begged and pleaded to stand at the plate by myself. After all, don’t we all come to the age when we just want to stand on our own two feet, staring down a pitcher and his canine outfielder?

It was a big moment for his baby girl, and Dad did his best to prepare me. “Okay, Hoo-doo,” he said. “I’m going to throw it easy, okay? Just keep your eye on the ball, sweetheart. Remember, eye on the ball.”

I nodded matter-of-factly and spit in the dirt. Then I planted my feet and waited for my moment of destiny.

It hit me — smack! — on my left cheek.

An unearthly wail arose instantaneously. It took me a moment to realize it was coming from my own lungs. By that time Dad was leaning over me with an anguished look on his face, the kind you have after you’ve maimed your youngest child.

Everyone gathered around me, and a fuss was made over me such as I had not enjoyed in a long time. Sure, I was in pain; a large bruise was blooming on my cheek just below my eye, but I was not indifferent to the prospect of all the extra attention I might be getting for the next several minutes and possibly hours. As I was carried into the house, I sniffingly asked for ice cream. A few minutes later Mom was hand-feeding it to me. I don’t know how on earth I convinced them that because my cheek was sore, my legs and hands no longer worked. That’s the kind of brazen lie parents only fall for when they’re feeling guilty about smacking you in the face with a baseball.

No one realized yet that I had a chronic baseball problem.

My eyesight was terrible, you see. There were incidents supporting this truth before I got glasses — like the fact that I kept crossing my eyes and running into walls. Mom and Dad must have thought I was doing that to be cute; I wouldn’t have put it past me.

By the time I finally got glasses, they didn’t help me much in one of my favorite games to play with Dad and Nate: catch. The first two or three times one of them threw me the ball, and it landed on my nose instead of in my mitt, they thought it was a fluke. By the fifth time it happened, they were out of patience and sympathy — even when I blamed it on my lazy right eye.

“Okay, that’s it. No more, Hillary!” said Dad, desperate to put us all out of our misery. “I forbid you to play catch!”

Nate just stared at me in disbelief. The pitiful girl holding her nose in both hands and groaning was the closest thing he had to a little brother. All his dreams of playing catch with a sibling who could actually catch the ball more than 20 percent of the time were smoke.

I wasn’t ready to throw in the glove, though. When Dad was busy or at work, I’d sneak up to Natie.

“Come on,” I’d say in a low voice. “Come on, let’s go — quick.” Then I’d show him the mitts I had behind my back.

Nate humored me, but my skills didn’t really improve. It was basically dodge ball with a smaller, much harder ball.

All these years later I have yet to meet another person whose Dad forbade them to play catch, because it was too dangerous. And Nate can probably blame me for the fact that, lacking sufficient practice, his pitching career never advanced beyond Little League. You may be thinking, My eyesight is 40-1000, and I can catch. Anyone can catch! Still, be careful the next time you’re tossing a ball around with the kids, because I’m pretty sure that’s how I got my crooked nose.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has 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.

There are no sick days for mommies

Kathy RadiganEach time I dare to get sick, I’m plagued with a recurring dream.

I’m in bed with an extremely sore throat or a painful stomach bug. I can barely lift my head up, yet I keep trying to reach my office to let them know I won’t be in today. But whatever I do, I can’t seem to get through to a single person who can help me.

I’m in a full-blown panic because I’m sick as a dog and desperately need to go back to bed, but responsibility calls. I have to reach my office to let them know I need a sick day, and I can’t rest until I do.

Then I wake up, relieved to realize that I am a SAHM and have no office to check in with. Nobody I have to answer to.

The relief is very short lived.

I remember a time, about two years ago, when my throat was so sore that I could barely breathe, never mind talk, without it hurting. I woke up to find my youngest, Peter, standing over me.

It was 6:30 in the morning.

“Mommy, I want sushi.”

“Peter,” I croak in a voice that is better-suited for a 1-900 number and not a mom of three. “Mommy is sick, go downstairs, and watch Nick Jr.”

“Mommy, I want breakfast.”

“Mommy, I need food.”

“Go into the cabinet…and get some cereal. Daddy will… get some muffins in a minute.” Each word hurt more than the last. I was in agony.

I turn to my husband, my best friend, my parenting partner, the man who sleeps right next to me. I can tell that he is pretending to be asleep, and I am less than pleased.

“Joe. …Please. …muffins…for…kids. I’m sick.”

“Mommy, I don’t want Daddy’s breakfast. I want yours.”

I hear Joe’s muffled laughter and part of me wants to join in. The other, very sick part, wants to just cry. Since words are agony for me, I just sigh. The sigh that means I’m seriously considering single parenthood.

Knowing that he better do something fast, Joe adopts what the kids call his “mean-Daddy” voice: “Peter, Daddy will get some muffins from Dunkin’ Donuts. Let Mommy sleep.”

I slip into the abyss once again.

Sweet slumber.

But not for long.

“Mommy.”

“Mommy.”

“Mommy.”

“What… is…it…Peter?”

“Can I hold your hand?”

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you, too.”

Now I’m feeling guilty. The poor thing just wants his mother. He is also probably scared since my voice sounds so strange, and it’s obvious I’m in pain.

I remember feeling the same way when I was little, and my Mom was sick. Moms are Super Human. They can’t get sick. My heart melts a bit, and I make a mental note to call and thank my own mother for not eating her young. I know my sisters and I tortured her when she was sick, just as my son was torturing me now.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, baby.” I now use the sweetest Mommy voice I can croak out for my child, who only wants reassurance and a cuddle from his Mom.

“Come walk with me to the kitchen, and get me something to eat.”

“Joe. Get…up…now…and take him with you before…  sell him,” I croak out before I just pass out and go back to sleep.

I faced the hard truth that day. There is a reason why I have had the same dream for as long as I have had kids. Unlike when I worked in an office, when I get sick now, there is nobody to call to let them know I won’t be in.

Mommies don’t get sick days.

— Kathy Radigan

Kathy Radigan is a writer, blogger, social media addict, mom to three, wife to one and owner of a possessed appliance. She posts a weekly essay each Sunday on her blog,  My dishwasher’s possessed! and has had her writing featured in What to Expect, BlogHer, Mamapedia, and other publications. She is a contributing author to Sunshine After the Storm: a survival guide for the grieving mother and The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Reflections of Erma