“Sure,” I said, “Why not?” They love their granny, right?
As soon as they rode up in the car, my grandson (we’ll call him Frankie) catapulted out of the back seat and grabbed the large branch of my tree, swinging himself around and landing flat in my flower bed. Isn’t that adorable? My granddaughter, (we’ll call her Sasha) refused to get out of the street. She sat with her head in her hands, sprawling her feet out over the curb. I figured all they needed was a little understanding to get them to comply. Suddenly, the ice cream truck ventured into the neighborhood. They came alive with joy at the thought that I would actually pay $3.75 for a “torpedo popsicle.” In your dreams, I thought as I sauntered into the house. I figured we’d go to the store later and buy a 12 pack for the same price.
Next, they called out that they were hungry. So, I rummaged through the food cupboard, which, if you’ve ever been to my house, doesn’t take long, and came up with their favorite — peanut butter and jelly. Yay! I began to make the sandwiches at the request of my grandson.
Frankie: I want two pieces of bread.
Sasha: Why is the bread brown? I want white bread.
Frankie: Me, too.
Gramma: It’s whole wheat bread, better for ya.
Frankie: No gramma — don’t cut it. I want it folded.
Sasha: Gramma, I want mine cut. No, not that way, the other way. (Frankie drops his sandwich face down on the floor.)
Gramma: I’ll have to make you another one.
Sasha: I want milk.
Frankie: Yeah, chocolate milk.
Gramma: No chocolate. I only have white.
Sasha: I want the red cup.
Frankie: No, it’s mine. I want the red cup. Gramma, did-in’t you give ME the red cup?
Sasha: (now crying) I don’t like the BLUE cuhhppp.
Frankie: Can I have ice in mine?
Sasha: (sobbing) Me, too.
Frankie: I want two ice cubes.
Sasha: How come he got two? I want two, too. (now screaming)
I want to drink chocolate milk in my red cup with two ice cubes!
Frankie: I want something else to drink.
Gramma: Me, too. See ya later — I’m goin’ to the bar.
— Mari’ Emeraude
This essay is an excerpt from Mari’ Emeraude’s book, Your Face Will Freeze Like That and other stuff mom told us. Visit her author page here.
I said, “Don’t you have three kids at home who can upload, download, share and/or tag anything faster than you can say the word help?” “They have no patience for me,” she responded. Another girlfriend said, “They only want to show me something once.” A third said, “They are always putting me off. Too busy.”
Seriously, I thought. No patience? They’re too busy?
I’m wondering how these kids would have responded if their mothers had the same impatience when it was time for potty training. Can you imagine if we rolled our eyes and said, “Really? Again?” as they cried because they needed a diaper change.
When it was time to teach them to ride a bike without training wheels, how about if we said, “Are you kidding me? Didn’t I just show you this yesterday? Don’t you have a friend you can ask?”
I’m sure you fondly remember making yourself available to teach them how to throw a baseball, a football, and a Frisbee; to ice skate, swing a racquet or a golf club; do a cartwheel and a forward roll. Just imagine their faces if we had said, “Does it have to be done right now?”
The list goes on and on of what we did with patience and smiles. We spent weeks explaining how to tie one’s shoelaces, sip from a cup and then when these feats were finally accomplished, we clapped like they had won the Pulitzer. “You put your own socks on?! You pulled your pajama pants up?! YAY!” Clap, clap, clap! I clapped so much I had calluses on my palms.
I can’t remember ever once rolling my eyes at my kids, can you?
I didn’t think so.
A friend had the best retort when her son complained about helping her with her iPod. “Look, she said, “it took me months to potty train you. Sit down and show me this.”
Right on, girlfriend.
I admit, technology issues do need to be explained a few times before I understand enough to be proficient. But once I have it down, I’m good at remembering how to do it. And sometimes, after getting impatient waiting to be shown how to do it, I figure it out. Our kids must think that if they just ignore us, maybe we will figure it out on our own. Maybe it’s their way of showing us tough love?
Maybe we should have tried the tough love approach when they wanted us to teach them to parallel park.
But what a feeling when on my own I do figure it out.
“Hah!” I want to shout. “I did it! I did it!”
Who needs those uber-busy, hyper-connected, impatient and oh, so brilliant, incredibly fast-texting children anyway?
After realizing nobody was coming home from college or driving 900 miles from Michigan to show me how to make an online photo album, I researched how to do it, did a few trial-and-error uploads to my computer, Photoshopped all the photos so that nobody looked better than me, got rid of red-eye people, and I even added music! I cropped photos, made an album cover and allowed people to post and share comments. Then I sent all the photos out electronically for printing to Snapfish.
All on my own, thank you very much.
As I hit SEND, I secretly wait for someone to clap, to say YAY, to give me a prize, a ribbon, a trophy, anything.
So I called my mother.
And she clapped.
(Thank you, DL, for the inspiration, and for my Mom who always clapped the loudest.)
— Tracy Buckner
Tracy Buckner writes for The Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills family of newspapers, which serve Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can read more of her musings on her blog: “Aging, Kids, Family and Why We Self-Medicate.”
“Maybe this year you’ll come to the Cape … We’d love to have you visit in the Hamptons … Please spend a weekend with us at Fire Island … You know you’re always welcome in Connecticut.”
The desire to have guests, I suspect, is because they’re rattling around in enormous homes that were the right size when their kids were younger. The children now have their own families and vacation homes; some may already have their own liver spots. Empty-nest syndrome continues to taunt with unused bedrooms and an excess of beach towels, apparently more disturbing at the beach than in the city. I say this because no one with an extra bedroom in Manhattan has ever pleaded with us to sleep over.
Martin and I, who for three months think of ourselves as “MarSyb,” the Brangelina of our social circle, do not particularly welcome this A-List status. For us it’s a seasonal disorder because we turn down every offer, our own “least favorite nations” clause. It’s not that we don’t adore and enjoy our friends. We value each tremendously and welcome any opportunity to spend time with them but, like single guys who are eager to go home after sex, at the end of the evening we want to sleep in our own bed.
Early in our marriage, we went to Bridgehampton to stay with dear friends, Roberta and Vic. On Friday night, Roberta hugged me, saying how thrilled she was to have our four toothbrushes in the same house. I went into the bedroom, where an anxious Martin whispered, “What’s the soonest we can leave without seeming rude?” He was worried whether he’d be able to sleep with no TV on (his habit). Getting up at 3 a.m. to visit the bathroom or refrigerator (another habit) compounded the stress. Was it okay to nosh on the smoked salmon, or was that tomorrow’s lunch?
Waking to find Roberta in the kitchen making blueberry pancakes was more than we could bear. We were already feeling guilty that they’d prepared a room for us, stocked up on food and invited friends for dinner. They wouldn’t let us help — not with the marinating, chopping, blending, or driving to pick up the bread, newspapers and others arriving on the Hampton Jitney. There were not enough bottles of wine or slabs of imported cheese on Long Island that would allow us to reciprocate.
In addition to feeling beholden to our overworked hosts, Martin and I lose all authenticity, feeling obligated to defer to their every wish and plan. At cocktail hour, I’ve heard myself say, “Sure, vodka is fine,” when what I really want to say is, “You wouldn’t happen to have any frozen strawberry margaritas around here, would you?”
We can’t buy into mi casa es su casa, never forgetting who’s paid for and caring for the casa. After a few stabs at being houseguests, Martin and I admitted to each other that it was too hard to be on someone else’s turf.
Fortunately, summer is our favorite season in New York. The city empties out, so we can get a restaurant table that would otherwise be held for Alec Baldwin and see a movie without calling Fandango. Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach is a 30-minute subway ride away, and there are blintzes on the boardwalk. Our apartment is three blocks from the Hudson River, where you have a choice of biking, skateboarding, tennis, canoeing, kayaking, or miniature golf-and, of course, sunbathing. We walk on the newly constructed High Line and stop into Chelsea’s art galleries, after which we get soft ice cream from a truck named Mister Softee.
Best of all, we return to our own home
— Sybil Sage
After working as Carl Reiner’s secretary, Sybil broke into the male-dominated field of comedy writing, doing scripts for many TV show including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude and Northern Exposure. Her humorous essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Redbook, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Coastal Living, The Daily Forward and more. She also designs pique assiette mosaic art.
He must have seen us inside the grocery store. It was the first time we were going in without a stroller. Everybody do good listening for Momma, okay? Six innocent eyes peered back at me. You will hold hands and stay by me?
Oldest: “Yes Mommy. I go shopping.”
Twin B: “Momma!”
Twin A: “Nose!”
I’ll take it.
We create the cutest chain of hand holding I have ever been associated with. I am holding the hand of my oldest. She is almost six, sporting a pink ball gown that she thinks Pnina Tornai designed, as a result of too many viewings of Say Yes to the Dress, but was really on sale at Costco. Her red cowboy boots complement her rainbow wig. She is holding hands with her baby brother, Twin B, who refused to leave the house without a bright green arm warmer and his sister’s hat. On the other side, I am clutching the arm of Twin A who is covered in a mixture of guacamole and applesauce and is giggling at the puddles he is falling into. It takes us about 10 minutes to get through the revolving door, but we got this.
We are here for a mission. My daughter has proudly remembered the four things we need to buy. She has spent all week working on identifying them and is here to generalize the skill in the grocery store. With the support of her therapists, we have a modified PECS system where she can look at a picture of the item and put it in her grocery cart. Today’s haul includes: Strawberries, Milk, Popsicles, Chocolate Chip Muffins.
Aisle #1: “Looks like you have your hands full” greets us in the produce aisle. Yes, it’s our first time without the stroller, I hear my chipper voice respond.
“STRAWBERRIES”! My daughter spots item #1. And they are all off. Despite the fact that two of my three children wear orthotics, they are suddenly faster than I can ever imagine. Their physical therapists would be so proud. Someone needs to tell the produce people that the height of the fruit is the exact wrong height for almost two-year-old twins. They have each put five cartons of blueberries into the shopping cart, but they are not tall enough to drop them gently, so there is now an avalanche of tiny spherical berries surrounding the cart. Twin B sits on the floor to start eating them. Yum ‘erries. Twin A can’t stop giggling and our fearless leader is shouting, “Not on the list. Only Strawberries.”
Aisle #2: I have now bribed Twin A to sit in the front of the shopping cart with the stolen remnants of the berries I couldn’t return into the package. This is a gentle reminder for consumers to wash your fruit before you eat it. Twin B is holding my hand singing “EIEI-O” and we are stopped by a fellow shopper at the deli counter. “Looks like you have your hands full.” Yes, this was a terrible idea. “I have two children. One is a newborn. I don’t think I will ever take them to the grocery store.” Would you excuse me? It looks as if I have misplaced one of my children. Don’t worry about helping me sir, just watch me, frantically throw a child into the back of a grocery car while his twin is grabbing my glasses from my face. Nose. Yes, honey, that is Mommy’s nose. Jordan! Jordan! Can you hear me? Has anyone seen a little girl in a pink dress and wig? There can’t be many in the store. Jordan, Mommy can’t see you! I finally make it to the snack aisle, with every cliché of panic on my face.
“Hi Mommy. I found pretzels. Not on the list. Keep going.”
Aisle #3: I have bribed Twin B with a lollypop to sit in the grocery cart while Twin A insists on pushing the cart while I carry him. My daughter is leading us towards the milk aisle. We walk past a maintenance worker and his full butt crack as he bends over the lobster tank. “Look Mommy, tushie.” Yes, honey I see it — let’s move ahead.” I grab the milk with my other arm, throw it in the cart, and we head toward item #3.
Aisle #4: Everyone is now sitting inside the cart, with squished blueberries on their pants, devouring the box of popsicles we just located. I go back to get a second. Of course I left the wipes in the car. Yes, I do have my hands full. Thanks for noticing.
As we approach the final aisle, I compliment my daughter on her strong shopping skills. This is a big deal for her, and we have to finish the entire task to make the lesson stick. She is the most excited for item #4. The chocolate chip muffins. I, too, have never been more excited to purchase an item, because it means we can go home.
We turn the corner and I can see, like a glaring spotlight, they are sold out. What about blueberry muffins? They are delicious. “No! The list says chocolate chip!”
If you have ever been around a child, let alone one with special needs, the space between the expectation and the reality is frankly — painful. I was ready to handle the breakdown. I had my contingency plan in place. I mean I wasn’t too far from the beer aisle — maybe if I just hid. “Mommy. No muffins.”
Yes. I see that. We can get them next time.
“Okay Mommy. Let’s go home. My list done.”
This momentous occasion practically makes me float out of the grocery store. And for the record, not only did we not float, we disrupted an entire display of candy bars, Twin B signed the credit card receipt, and my daughter did her best rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side.” (Less than appropriate, but that’s for another day).
We piled into the car. A full 50 minutes after we had arrived. Four items in our bag. As I buckled the last car seat, I hear a man’s voice shout from behind his steering wheel.
“Hey. I saw you in there.”
Oh, I’m sorry. It was our first time –
“You are a terrific mother. Have a great day.”
Thank you, kind stranger. I will have a great day. And I’m going to figure out how to turn strawberries, milk and popsicles into a meal — because while we were at the grocery store — I didn’t have any time to get dinner.
— Leah Moore
Leah Moore is a teacher and mother of three delicious children. She captures the stories of her special needs daughter with Cri Du Chat and the adventures of her twin baby boys in her blog, www.thecheesebus.com. She believes life’s odysseys can best be handled with kindness, a sense of humor and the perfect pair of sweatpants.
(The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is teaming with prolific author Allia Zobel Nolan on a proposed humorous anthology on aging. The book, tentatively titled When Life Hands You Age Spots, Play Connect the Dots, will be offered through an agent to traditional publishers. Here’s Allia’s update on the project.)
“The time has come, the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes, and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and. . .Age Spots submissions.
First off, we want to thank each and every one of you (and there was a bigly amount, rest assured) who took the time and effort to write and submit their pieces. We enjoyed reading them and wish we could use them all.
Some essays didn’t make the running because they were previously published several times, didn’t hit the length requirement or duplicated a theme of another, stronger entry. We purposely chose pieces that were very different from one another. The selection process included readings by several people who came to a consensus about the ones selected for the book proposal.
Still, at this stage of the project, we only needed a sampling to accompany the proposal. So we chose six pieces, with the caveat that if — scratch that — when we get a publisher, the publisher will have final say about everything that goes into the book. So nothing is carved in stone at this point.
Now, (sorry to prolong the agony), but please know that we will need more material for the “real” book. So when we do find a publisher, we’ll consider other pieces, including new, original material. We may also be able to consider previously published material, depending on the house we snag. So if you are not one of the six below, there is still a chance. As we said, at this stage, we were just looking for a “sampling.” We understand your work is precious to you, so those who want to use their submission elsewhere and prefer not to wait, please feel free to do so.
Here are the writers who made the initial cut:
Barbara L. Smith
Amy MacVay Abbott
Anne Elise O’Connor
What’s next? We will properly format the essays, contact the six authors for short bios, finish the proposal and send it out before Easter and Passover. Even then, the project may not be looked at immediately by publishers because of the holidays. So, we will wait patiently.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for your efforts. We will keep you posted as the project progresses.
— Allia Zobel Nolan
Author Allia Zobel Nolan has published close to 200 books, some for children, others for cat lovers, some humorous, some devotional. A former senior editor at Reader’s Digest, she attended her first Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2016.
I wonder if it is a mere coincidence these two days fall back-to-back this year or is it symbolic? One event brings to mind pain, suffering, anguish and the cruelty of those who rule, and the other retells the resurrection of Christ.
When you think about it, it’s amazing how far we have come since the imperial days of Rome and how tax collection was handled then. In that time, if you couldn’t pay your taxes, the government would throw you into debtors prison to languish until you made enough money to pay.
Here’s what happened to an ordinary Roman citizen who missed the April 15 filing deadline and was thrown into prison:
“Well, Citizen Arugula, do you have enough money now to pay your taxes and free yourself from this prison?” asks the tax collector.
“No, you nitwit. I’m chained to this wall in a dungeon. I can’t even scratch my nose. How am I supposed to make money for my taxes?”
“Have it your way, Citizen Arugula. I’ll check back in a year to see if you have what is due Caesar, including the compounded interest and a hefty penalty for late filing.
“It’s either that or you’ll have to build an aqueduct.”
A more humane system
This year I’ve decided to go to a tax preparation service to have my taxes done. A friend steered me to a new group called “Fred & Bubba’s What’s the Chances We’ll Make a Mistake and You’ll Go to Prison” tax preparation service.
I’ve always been against going to such places because I always figured I could do the taxes myself. I’ve done them many times in the past but I’m tired of having to change my name and identity every three to four years.
But tax preparation has grown so complicated that it now takes the average person more than 13 hours to collect the required documents, read the tax books, fill out the forms and pack their bags for debtors prison.
The system is so complicated that studies have found 50 percent of the time when people call the IRS with tax questions, they get wrong information. Hey, the IRS won’t lose everything and go to jail if they are wrong.
So, the other day I gathered up all my tax forms, W2 forms, purchase receipt slips, itemized deductions, tax credits, stock market losses, dividend and annuity reports, and grocery lists and packed them into a U-Haul van and headed out to Fred and Bubba’s tax preparation services.
I was assigned a very professional lady tax preparer named Bubba. She plugged all my information into a computer program, added in my personal deductions and made me give my real name.
I have to say the whole process was fairly painless. Where I had spent literally days and anguished nights poring over tax forms to see if I qualified for every break, the Fred and Bubba people had my IRS taxes prepared with all required supplemental forms nicely printed out and organized inside a pretty blue binder within just an hour.
Then she gave me the bad news.
“I’m afraid you owe the federal government so much money, we think you’re going to have to build them an aqueduct.”
— Myron Kukla
Myron Kukla is the author of several books of humor, including Guide to Surviving Life available at www.squareup.com/store/myronkuklabooks and Van Wieren Hardware in Holland, Michigan.
She has grey hair at the roots, some wrinkles and two age spots on her cheek. Oh yeah that’s me, I have to remind myself.
Years ago, before the older woman showed up, when I was well into my 40s, I got carded at a grocery store. Among the apples, eggs and a family pack of chicken pieces was beer for my husband. It was a day I didn’t have much makeup on, my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I even remember the red shirt I wore.
As my groceries slid down the conveyor belt, the cashier grabbed hold of the six-pack and asked for my ID. I glanced up, then turned to the person behind me, thinking the cashier was talking to them. Nope — they had no beer. I looked back to the cashier and said with a big smile, “Really?”
But then I thought, OK, this is a scam. I am so gullible, I’m not getting caught this time. So I looked around for hidden cameras, as I dug in my purse for my license. A little giddy, I asked the cashier, “Is this some kind of a joke? Are there hidden cameras somewhere?” She just shrugged, checked my ID, then handed it back. I thanked her profusely and told her she made my day as I floated away inches off the floor.
I came home to brag to my husband. He was happy for me, said of course I looked great, gave me a big hug. Then he reminded me that stores were now asking for IDs from everyone who looked under 35.
Thud. (That was the sound of my feet hitting the floor.)
Oh, that’s right, I thought. Still, I’ll take it.
Now, I’m in my late 50s. I really didn’t think it would ever happen again. I thought I would have to settle for NOT being asked for my AARP card.
But, guess what? It happened again. Just last week. I went into a liquor store for a bottle of wine. The cashier asked to see my ID. I joked, “Oh, are you asking anyone who looks younger than 60?”
She said, “No! You’re not 60?”
“No, but I’m pushing it,” I answered as I pulled out my license.
She took my ID and made some kind of exclamation, then showed it to the young cashier next to her. He laughed politely, probably thinking that everyone over 30 looks ancient — what’s the difference in a decade or two.
I did my shtick about hidden cameras because, really, could she be serious? I mean, I have been asked if I want the senior discount at the movie theater. I teased her that it must be a marketing ploy, as I would certainly never buy my wine anywhere else ever again. As before, I floated out, feet not touching the floor.
It’s nice to know that my inner youth stills shines through from time to time. I don’t think she’ll show up again in a liquor store — my recent ID thrill was probably my last — and that’s OK. I’m learning to love my older self in the mirror, wrinkles and all. She doesn’t look like how I feel, but she’s like a fine wine that gets better with age. Within her will always be my inner youth. And I’ll take it.
— Karen DeBonis
Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (aka avoiding housework), meditating (aka napping) and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (aka gardening). She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.
Honestly, it is like giving birth, figuratively. What took two and a half years of frustration, brain-wracking, ripping apart and starting over, and sitting glumly looking out the window has finally come to fruition: I am holding my own second novel in my hand.
My copies of the book are delivered about a month before general release. This is for marketing purposes. What this means to me is I get to run all over the neighborhood, waving the book around and whooping. It also means that I am only supposed to give my copies away to those who are in a position to promote it for me: book reviewers, book bloggers, newspaper columnists, etc. I am sincerely going to try to limit myself to these people this time around, instead of handing my book out to all my friends because I am so excited. I ran out of my copies of my last novel in about an hour.
Would you like to know how to go about writing a novel? Me, too. I don’t think I do it right, but I am willing to share my process, perhaps as a cautionary tale to others who hope to become novelists.
• Get an idea for a book. This is called a premise. In the case of Crossing the Street, I knew I wanted to write a story about the friendship between a millenial woman and a precocious little girl.
• Start writing the book immediately. Hope that as you develop the characters, whom you love, an excellent plot line will develop right along with it.
• Get stumped, because that plot line is absolutely not materializing.
• Put in some very dramatic and tragic stuff that doesn’t work.
• Send all of this off to your publisher and editor, who concurs that this isn’t working.
• Go back to the drawing board.
• Call up some friends for advice. They give great advice. But the plot line still doesn’t work.
• Call another friend who is a published author. She gives you a private seminar in plotting.
• But the damn plot line you are desperately holding onto still sucks.
• Email your editor for help. He basically shoots down the whole thing (rightfully so) and says that you are trying too hard. He suggests taking an online course in storyboarding.
• DO THAT.
• Spend about four weeks working on a storyboard for the book. Make some great progress after throwing out the dramatic and tragic stuff.
• Get stuck two thirds of the way through the storyboard. Write another email to your publisher asking him if he could just provide you with one little plot event to bring a climax to the book so that you don’t have to crawl into a hole to die. He generously does this, knowing he doesn’t want your blood on his hands.
• Finish the storyboard and heave a huge sigh of relief.
• Get writing. Realize that you are completely failing at show, don’t tell (you can look this up; it pains me to even think about it at this time).
• In a panic, you email another writer friend, and ask for help. Apparently, this email alarms her. She replies that you need to calm down and take a few deep breaths. Then she sends you a very confidential excerpt of her work in progress that gives a terrific example of showing, not telling.
• You read the excerpt and wish you could write like this woman, but you actually begin to understand what all the hoorah about showing vs. telling is all about.
• You go back to your manuscript and take out all the telling.
• Then you start writing all over again, showing the hell out of everything.
• You finally finish.
• Your publisher says, “I think you got it. This was a hard row to hoe, but we can publish this. Here are my editorial suggestions.”
• You rewrite the book again.
• The copy editor then gets the book. She makes her suggestions.
• You realize you used the word okay forty million times in the manuscript, and spelled it differently every time.
• You rewrite the book again.
• You are getting sick to death of these characters, and you want to murder all of them. Plus, you hate punctuation marks all of a sudden.
• BUT WAIT. The book is finished! You have a cover!
• Thank God you have great author friends who agree to give testimonials. Praise heaven for these folks.
• The day comes. A box of books arrives. You hold one in your hand and take a selfie.
• You thank heaven you have that Photoshop App.
• Voila! A bestseller (hoping and praying) is born. Almost overnight!
— Molly D. Campbell
Molly D. Campbell writes a blog from her pantry, often in pajamas. She is a two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Competition award winner, winning honorable mentions in both the humor and human interest categories in 2010 and 2012. She’s the author of three books: Characters in Search of a Novel, Keep the Ends Loose and the newly published Crossing the Street.