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Let’s write!

This is one impressive line-up.

Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel, Heloise, W. Bruce Cameron, Joel Brinkley, Tracy Beckerman, Suzette Martinez Standring, Gina Barreca, Jerry Zezima and a number of other gifted writers are all part of the June 27-30 37th annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ conference in Hartford, Conn.

Register by April 1 for the early registration fee. Click here for the full conference line-up and registration information.

Suzette Martinez Standring, who wrote the book on column writing, is teaching a workshop about the art of a writing a column that stands out. This workshop is slated for April 26 in Boston. Click here for details.

The Grailville Retreat and Program Center in Loveland, Ohio, invites writers to attend “Writing as Healing,” a workshop led by writer and nurse Jeanne Bryner.

This workshop, which runs from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, uses writing (poetry, journaling, narrative) and other forms of creative self-expression to explore themes of physical and spiritual healing and thriving. The fee is $45, which includes lunch. Reservations are required. Some scholarships may be available. Call 513-683-2340 or click here.

A bare compliment

Have you ever been told you look young while lying nude on a backboard, wearing a neck brace and stretched out on a gurney?


Well, I have.

Neener. Neener. Neener.

When you first arrive in the emergency department, they ask you the usual questions.

“Ma’am, what happened to your clothes?”

Haha! No, they knew my apparel had been cut off in the ambulance, or they guessed I was headed to the grocery store naked that Friday morning. Either way, it was irrelevant.

So first they asked, “What’s you name?”


“How old are you, Hillary?”

“33. No, 32. I have a birthday…coming up…this week…”

And that’s when I heard it, as from an angelic male voice drawing me toward a bright light down a rose-scented tunnel.

“Wow, she looks young!”

Right then and there I wanted to spring off that backboard with a cry of, “I’m cured! Peace, ya’ll!”, and take myself off for a victory jog around the hospital corridors, but

a. I had multiple rib fractures, which wouldn’t allow me to roll off the table, much less spring from it

b. I figured once that doctor or nurse got a flash of my full, jiggling thighs and cellulite, he might not think I looked so young anymore, and

c. I was pretty sure I could be arrested for indecent exposure, even while in the hospital. Of course, my defense would have been perfect: temporary insanity brought on by a crazy good compliment after a traumatic injury.

But failing this I lay there with an asinine smile on my face, waiting for someone to tell me I also had a brilliant mind and a winning personality.

Instead they took me for a CAT scan.

Later my euphoria was dampened by a nurse saying she thought I was older and then gloating over her own youthful appearance, overhearing a couple of nurses comment to each other that I smelled worse than expected (I couldn’t shower for six days, people!), and by my doctor asking me how much I weighed and then hazarding a guess — 70kg.

“I don’t know how much that is,” I told him. (There goes the brilliant mind theory.)

I’m surprised he didn’t cry, “Damn!”, claim he forgot something in another room and shuttle out of there never to be seen again. Instead, he bravely said, “140.”

“Last time I checked, I was 134,” I responded. I magnanimously added, “But you could be right; I haven’t weighed myself in a long time.”

After all, 140 isn’t bad at all, and I hadn’t weighed myself in a while.

And, obviously, I’m not one for being vain.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra is a mother of four and a writer at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. She has been published multiple times at the humor site Aiming Low. She lives in Arizona where she takes every chance to explore Native American ruins and natural wonders.

Rest in peace, but not at Disney

So then… I scroll through the FAQ on the Disneyland website to prep for our upcoming trip.

The section, “What items are not permitted in Disneyland Park,” contains things you’d expect:

• Alcoholic beverages
• Illegal substances
• Weapons

BUT they also list:

• Items that may be disruptive (e.g., laser pointers, slingshots, stink bombs, air horns)

(Thank goodness. Can’t tell you how many times our enjoyment of It’s A Small World has been ruined by a nasty stink bomb. Although to be honest, some of those have been human-made by our own party.)

Disneyland’s list clarifies:

• Weapons of any kind (including guns, knives, billy clubs, brass knuckles, nunchucks, stars and other martial arts equipment)

(Nunchucks? Really? Are lethal Ninjas flinging nunchucks at unsuspecting Disneyland tourists?)

The forbidden list also includes:

• Restraining devices (e.g., handcuffs, zip ties) or any suspicious items (e.g., box cutters, razor blades, duct tape, wire)

(Um…duct tape – handcuffs – zip ties? So basically, don’t bring your rape kit to Disneyland.)

You also can’t bring:

• Masks (unless you are dressing up for a particular event)

(So is someone thinking: “Well, I WAS going to dress up for my Forced Sexual Abduction — but hell, if I can’t even bring my rape kit, there’s no point in bringing the mask. Damn you, Disneyland, you take all the fun out of a day at the park!”)

But the item that really caught my eye on the list of items you cannot bring is:

 Cremated remains (e.g., urns, vases, boxes)


This is completely true. Go to the FAQ on Disneyland’s website.

They list rolling devices (bikes/trikes/motorbikes), plus 19 other things, for a total of 20 forbidden items.

So, does this mean that out of the 15 million people who visit Disneyland each year, enough of them brought HUMAN REMAINS to the park that it made the list of Top 20 Items You Cannot Bring To Disneyland?

Can that be right?

Are people sneaking in urns of cremated friends and family to simply SHARE THE EXPERIENCE? As in: “Grandma loved Disneyland. Didn’t seem right to make the trip without her. Kids, strap her in good — these teacups get a little wild!”

Or are people planning to arrive with their cremated loved ones —  BUT DEPART WITHOUT THEM? As in: “OK kids, you know how much ol’ Uncle Ricky loved Space Mountain, so just before we start the five-story drop, open the urn, spread those ashes and let him loose!”

But if Disneyland IS the Happiest Place on Earth, why wouldn’t they allow people to lay their relatives to rest there?

In fact, I see a huge untapped market for Disneyland! Might I suggest some slogans?

Welcome to DisneyCrypt – the Happiest Resting Place in the After Life.

Come be a Forever Sleeping Beauty in our Magic Castle Coffins.

Blast into the Great Beyond with Buzz Lightyear’s fully functioning Rocket Casket.

Enter Neverland in your own Peter Pan Pod.

Ashes to Ashes, Fairy Dust to Fairy Dust – Check out Tinkerbell’s Tomb.

Jump down the Ultimate Rabbit Hole to a True Wonderland in our Mad Hatter Urn.

Enjoy your Eternal Rest in Belle’s Burial Chamber.

Two for One — This Week Only, at Mickey’s Mausoleum.

Put the FUN back in FUNeral with Goofy’s Graves!

But then I suddenly realize that this crafty entertainment conglomerate already has the burial market covered! Check out the description of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride:

“Drift into the Dead Man’s Grotto, where the skeletons of past pirates litter the…haunted ship whose crew drank themselves to death. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!”

Yo ho, yo ho – a Disney burial’s the death for me!

— Darcy Perdu

Darcy Perdu shares her bodacious blunders, hilarious humiliations and amusing adventures — and asks you to do the same on her blog. Her real-life stories of running a business, wrangling two kids, traveling hither and yon, and navigating relationships will remind you of your own funny experiences — so come share them and read others.  You’ll laugh; you’ll gasp; you’ll chuckle — you might even snort!

Kids who roost

(Nancy LaFever’s interview with humor writer Amy originally appeared on Reposted by permission.)

It’s not uncommon these days for grown children to move back home with parents while looking for a job after college, due to financial concerns or a change in life circumstances. But some parents that would normally be empty nesters are finding their young adult kids have yet to fledge or show signs of leaving home any time soon. As a parent, how do you be supportive of your children while edging them towards independence and the door?

My Move sought advice from humor writer Amy Mullis for tips on the topic.

My Move: According to your blog, Mind Over Mullis, you have two sons, 22 and 24, living with you and your husband. This could be prime empty-nest time to hang out with your hubby, take up the cross-bow or enjoy other child-free pastimes. What methods have you tried to persuade the kids to get their own place?

Mullis: “Nancy, it might be most helpful to make sure parents know what NOT to do in this situation. Do you remember the movie Gremlins? The rules to remember: Never expose the gremlin to sunlight, never get it wet, and never EVER feed it after midnight. Well, that’s standard procedure for KWR (Kids Who Roost).

My Move: I’m familiar with parenting guides by Dr. Spock, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,”etc., but not aware of the Gremlins Parenting Method. Would you elaborate a bit on it?

Mullis: “There’s no real need to worry about the first two rules. My guys haven’t seen sunlight since the PlayStation came out. They live by the light of an electronic screen. As long as the rechargeable batteries in the Xbox controllers hold out, they never need to leave the house. My tip? As soon as you can manage a snatch-and-grab, shove those batteries down the garbage disposal.

Never get it wet? I have one kid who never goes in the bathroom without his laptop. He hasn’t showered on his own since I was slow with the diaper in 1991. It’s not likely he’ll meet with any more moisture than a power flush provides. So I’ve shaken — not stirred — all the canned soft drinks in the house. Sooner or later one will blow up in his face and give him an understanding of what reality shows are all about. If that fails, there’s a trick with the kitchen sprayer I’m dying to try.

As for the last rule, I find that it’s the most important one. NEVER, EVER feed them at all. Kids are like fire ants. Once they find a food source, they bring in reinforcements and sting you till your wallet goes up in smoke. And Wal-Mart’s got nothing in the garden center to take care of these guys. Unplug the refrigerator before they find the string cheese left over from last Christmas.

(By the way, that cross-bow thing is beginning to sound pretty good. Thanks for the tip.)”

My Move: Parents often provide encouragement and support to inspire their children to succeed. With the demise of the Hostess Company (may Twinkie rest in peace), what will you do to bribe — err — motivate the kids?

Mullis: “Don’t keep food in the house. That sort of thing is trouble waiting to happen. Unless it’s liver mush. There’s nothing like liver mush to inspire outward-bound motivation.”

My Move: Your boys are in school, right? Do you, hubby and the kids have a general timeline for launch? Does your projection synch with the kids’?

Mullis: “I figure I’ll see the last kid leave just about the time he discovers that all I have to leave him in the will is some do-it-yourself magic beans. I’ll provide the beans. He’ll have to do the rest.”

My Move: What advice would you give other parents with children who have yet to leave the nest or have come back to roost?

Mullis: “I come from the South where we have large extended families to help each other in times of dire need. I suggest you make sure there’s enough family that they can always go live with somebody else. That’s the perfect time to get back at your Aunt Mildred for saying you have the figure of a chamber pot. Or that brother-in-law who still owes you money from the Self-Scratching Underwear scheme that petered out.”

My Move thanks Amy Mullis for her thoughtful tips and hopes she can say “bon voyage” to the boys sometime soon.

— Nancy LaFever

Nancy LaFever is a contributor to and pens the blog, Single People’s Grocery Lists. As a freelance writer, she has published more than 150 magazine articles and hundreds of blog posts on topics including fine crafts, business, women’s issues, travel, humor and popular culture.

“Three chairs for Jerry”

This humorous column by Jerry Zezima originally appeared in the Stamford Advocate on Feb. 15, 2013. Reposted by permission. 

A man’s home is his hassle. That’s why he needs a throne to sit on. And I’m not talking about one made of porcelain.

I refer, of course, to a guy chair — a big, comfortable seat he can relax in after performing such exhausting tasks as throwing out the garbage or picking up his dirty socks and underwear, a place fit for a king while he sits in front of the TV and either watches sports for hours on end or struggles to stay awake for the 11 o’clock news.

My wife, Sue, bless her heart, said I needed one. So we went furniture shopping.

When we arrived at the store, Sue told the greeter, who did her job well by greeting us, that we had an appointment with a saleswoman named Melody. The greeter telephoned Melody, who was in another part of the store, and said, “There are guests at the front desk.”

“This sounds like a hotel,” I said. “If we’re guests, can we stay overnight?”

“Sure,” the greeter answered. “We have bedroom furniture upstairs.”

I noticed a bar with wine glasses and empty bottles.

“Did I miss happy hour?” I asked.

“Yes,” the greeter said. “We just finished the wine.”

While we were waiting for Melody, I walked around the store, which probably had more chairs, tables, beds, bureaus, sofas and nightstands than Buckingham Palace. There were enough footstools for an ottoman empire.

“Try out the chairs,” Sue suggested.

“You want me to sit around and do nothing?” I asked. “That’s what I do at home.”

At that point, Melody showed up and said she was helping another customer but that we would be in good hands with Gloria.

“We’re looking for a chair,” Sue told her.

“What kind?” Gloria inquired.

“A guy chair,” I said. “For me.”

Then I proceeded to tell Gloria the long, sad story of the history of all the chairs that were supposed to be for me but were co-opted by Sue or our various pets, including our late, beloved dog, Lizzie, and our still-living cats, Kitty and her fat daughter, Bernice.

“The first time we got a chair that was ostensibly for me, we put it in the family room and Sue started sitting in it to watch ‘Law & Order’ and all her other shows,” I explained. “I was relegated to the rocking chair. At least I got to practice for my old age, which is rapidly approaching.”

“You don’t look old,” said Gloria.

“That’s because I’m shockingly immature,” I replied. “It makes me seem younger.”

Sue agreed.

“Anyway,” I continued, “the chair was getting clawed by our cats, so Sue put a slipcover on it. Then she said we needed another chair.”

“It was supposed to be for him,” Sue chimed in.

“Was it?” Gloria asked.

“No,” I said. “Sue started using it and our dog took over the first chair. She didn’t even watch ‘Law & Order.’ We put it in the living room, which we seldom use. I still sat in the rocking chair.”

“Now we’re looking for a third chair,” Sue said. “This time it’s really for Jerry.”

I picked out a very comfortable club chair that matched the sofa and the second chair.

“It’s the only chair that Cindy Crawford attaches herself to,” Gloria informed me. “She uses it for her collection.”

“Does this mean Cindy will be visiting us to watch TV?” I asked excitedly.

“She doesn’t come with the chair,” Gloria responded.

“That’s OK,” I said. “She’d only take it over and I’d have to sit in the rocker again.”

The new club chair was delivered a few days later and put in the family room. I’d like to say I enjoy it, but our cats have taken it over.

As always, I am not going to take this sitting down.

— 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. The author of Leave it to Boomer, he has just finished his second book, The Empty Nest Chronicles, slated to be published later this year. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012.

The loser-mom cure

(Originally published in the October 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine. Reposted by permission of the author.)

You know those less-than-stellar moments in parenting? Those times when your heart sinks and you feel like the very worst person in the world? If you don’t, congrats, and please feel free to turn the page. If you do, stick around and let me tell you about one of my loser-mom moments and what I did to make them happen much less frequently.

It’s a typical weekday evening: dinner is over, and I’m squeezing in some chores before the kids’ bedtime. As I sit in the kitchen, immersed in making my grocery list and clipping coupons, my son, Will, then age 7, appears with the checkers game and asks me to play.

“I can’t,” I say. “I’m really busy, but I promise to play later.” I suggest that he get out another one of his toys or find his sisters, Meg and Emma. Off he goes.

That night when the kids are in bed and I’m tidying up, I find the box of checkers on the floor. The checkers I’d promised Will we’d play with later — but never did. And, I swear, the smiling boy and girl pictured on the box are actually glaring at me. “What?” I say to them defensively. “I was really busy!” (This isn’t the loser-mom moment yet.)

The next morning, I apologize to Will and ask him why he didn’t remind me. “Because you promised you would play, and you should just remember your own promises,” he answers.

Ouch. Loser-mom moment! I realize that lately I’ve been making more promises than I can keep. I feel horrible. I’m tempted to keep him home from school, spend hours playing checkers, give him ice cream for lunch, and take him shopping at the video-game store. But I exercise self-restraint, telling myself that I’ve apologized and should just move on and try to do better next time.

The solution

That evening I am elbow-deep in ground turkey when Will and the checkers reappear. “Darn! This kid has the worst timing,” I think to myself. But remembering my loser-mom moment, I say, “I’m making burgers right now, but I’d love to play with you when I’m done.”

He gets a look on his face that screams, “Here we go again!” So to seal the deal,  I add, “Why don’t you set the kitchen timer for five minutes? When it beeps, I’m all yours.”

This little idea turns out to be one of the best I’ve had in a while. Will thinks it’s cool that he gets to set the timer, and he loves watching the minutes tick away as I race to prepare dinner. I get to finish what I’m doing and still keep my promise. A win-win!

Three years later, this simple gadget is still working miracles around our house. Both my husband, Jay, and I use it to help the kids stay on schedule. And since, like all moms, I’m always in the middle of something, I often have the kids set the timer when they want my extended, undivided attention. The five-minute interval teaches them to respect my time and lets me wrap up what I’m doing so that I can focus on them. The result: no more broken promises. The boy and the girl on the checkers box have never been more proud.

—  Susan M. Schwieterman

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Susan Schwieterman is a writer, marketing professional, wife, mother, volunteer and doer of the laundry.

Comedy club

(Reposted by permission of author Gina Barreca. This piece originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 4, 2013.)

I’ve been trying to figure out whether it was harder to get into college, get tenure, or get into the Friars Club. The application process for all three was pretty similar: You had to get letters of recommendation, you were interviewed, and you had to show evidence of success as well as promise.

When I applied to Dartmouth College in 1975, I wrote my personal statement by hand in peacock-blue ink. I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t nervous when I answered the questions posed by the admissions committee because I figured if it didn’t work out, I’d go to a city school. An express bus left from my block.

To be honest, I was more nervous about dressing for my alumni interview with a local lawyer. I was afraid of seeming more Janis Joplin than Ali MacGraw (MacGraw was the epitome of an Ivy League coed in the 1970 blockbuster Love Story.) So I borrowed a kilt from a friend — one of those pleated things that close in the front with a big safety pin. It was like being in WASP drag. And while I knew enough to wear a button-down shirt with it, I didn’t know I shouldn’t wear one belonging to my boyfriend. I didn’t look like a model from a Talbots catalog; I looked like an extra from Braveheart.

But I was accepted anyway. The college, which had only begun admitting women three years earlier, welcomed us with banners saying “Better Dead Than Coed.” So what if I didn’t fit in? I was in.

Preparing my dossier for tenure was far more terrifying because I felt as if I had everything to lose. I revised my personal statement until the prose was so tortured that it sounded like a bad translation from Croatian. It was the early ’90s, and my scholarly work made heavy use of terms like “enactment,” “intratextual” and “hegemonic discourse.”

I submitted my promotion, tenure and review materials early. To a meeting with the deans and administrators, I wore a pinstripe suit, taupe pantyhose and two-inch heels to appear authoritative; I was nervous not so much about how I looked but whether I had enough gravitas (another word I threw around a lot in those days). That meeting went well, and despite some muttering, I was in. I’ll admit, however, that in my 25 years of living in Storrs, not one person has asked me “And in what part of Connecticut did you grow up?”

Fast forward to last spring when I gave a keynote speech at the University of Dayton Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. One of the other keynote presenters was Alan Zweibel, winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, playwright, author, and one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live. We hit it off. He had grown up in Brooklyn (and Long Island), too, and nobody would have asked him what part of Connecticut he grew up in either.

We were doing a local television show together, and he was annoying the interns in the green room (a tiny cement-block cell painted blue) about the coffee. We’re doing a live local daytime interview in Dayton, and he’s hocking these kids about not having real milk? I gave him a hard time, and he said “You’re funny” in that deadpan, almost medically diagnostic voice professionally funny people use when they realize somebody else has a sense of humor.

I knew he had written a book about Gilda Radner, with whom he had developed the characters Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella. I mentioned that it had not escaped me that those characters seemed to have a certain Italian flavor to them, not that I was bitter. Zweibel asked me to lunch at the Friars Club.

The Friars Club! Even just to eat lunch there was a big deal. We listened to a lot of comedy in my family. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnettand Jean Shepherd were huge in our house. My parents, neither of whom graduated from high school, read a lot of humor; my brother and I read books by Jean Kerr, James Thurber, Harry Golden, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and, of course, Bombeck. As a New York kid, I grew up worshiping at the altar of Alan King. When other kids in fifth grade were reciting passages from The Wind in the Willows, I was reciting from King’s Help! I’m a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the marble hall of the Monastery (as members call the club’s building), on East 55th Street in Manhattan, was the plaque listing the names of its administrators and committee members. It looked like a manifest from Ellis Island: The names were either Italian or Jewish, with a few Irish names thrown in for luck. In fact, it looked like my high-school yearbook. I was home again. And I wanted in.

But there’s an elaborate application process to become a Friar. You have to write a personal statement. I had to explain why I should be admitted into the category of “entertainment professional.” Of the 1,450 members permitted at any one time on the roster, there are non-entertainment members — agents, brokers, lawyers, publicists, to name a few — but “civilians” pay a far higher annual fee. This “country club for comedians” was founded in 1904 by a group of New York press agents, joined soon after by hotshots like Oscar Hammerstein and George M. Cohan, who insisted that “the retention of the theatrical character is absolutely essential.”

I had to prove that as a writer of humor, as a scholar whose books are about humor, and as a public speaker who addresses humor, I qualified. It took me four changes of font and type size, but I crammed my message into the small space on the application booklet. I probably could have attached a letter, but I wanted to prove how much this meant to me and added a footnote to that effect. Maybe it was the footnote that got me in; they might never have received an application in MLA format before.

Once again, as with college and tenure applications, members had to write on my behalf, and I had to be interviewed.

This time, though, I didn’t cross-dress: I wore a version of what I would have worn to the Dartmouth interview 37 years ago if I’d had the nerve. I wore black boots, black pants, a tight black jacket, and heavy eyeliner. This time around, I wasn’t interviewed by a bored insurance lawyer but instead by the actor Dominic Chianese, best known for his role as Junior on The Sopranos. Dominic wanted to discuss Pirandello and Emerson. He was impressed by my day job.

When I asked the club’s executive director, Michael Gyure, whether any other Friars were professors, he answered “Does Elie Wiesel count?” (That Elie Wiesel is a Friar is not something I had overlooked; his name on the roster surprised me because the Nobel Peace Prize recipient is not someone who comes to mind as a “laugh riot.” Don Rickles he’s not.) I explained that I was asking more about ordinary, full-time faculty members. “I, for the life of me, can’t think of any others. That means you are the only one!” Gyure answered, adding “Semper Sursum.

It turns out that, at the Friars Club, being a professor actually matters.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, feminist scholar and author of eight books, served as a keynoter at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

This is 40

Never liked the sound of 39. It’s a last-ditch-effort age. You get that “in one more year it’s all OVER” look over and over on this particular birthday.

For a good week, I had a burning desire to finish out the decade with a big bang. How could I get ahead of the new chapter that would magically start on my 40th birthday? The bucket list was closing in on me. All at once, get it done! Yes!

No. I quickly came to my senses.

I started reflecting a couple of days before 40.

Whhhhhyyyyyyy do you make me do this every New Year’s Eve?” the husband whines.  Looking back from time to time is healthy. Why was the year good? What can we work on? Turning 40 was a New Year’s reflection, multiplied by 10.

Certain experiences of my 20s gave me the most clarity. Being a waitress, the job that offers the most vivid picture into humanity, both wonderful and pitiful, Working on and near a trading floor, a miniature “Lord of the Flies” specimen of the human condition. Teaching at an all-boys high school and seeing firsthand that anyone can grow and learn in a comfortable environment. Traveling abroad, living in NYC with friends, saying “I do.”

I became a teacher and a mother in my 30s.  Motherhood changed everything —expectations of myself, hopes for this crazy world, dreams for the kids, the definition of balance. The baby years were truly amazing days, minus two hormonally nasty months where I didn’t sleep too much and cried when I ate a bagel. It was a humbling, nonsensical time. Going through it during one of my four pregnancies strengthened my thoughts about emotional health. I will never subconsciously judge any woman who cries when she eats a bagel.

Watching a dear friend fight for her life against cancer in my 30s changed my thoughts on health, wellness, strength, pure hope, the need for comedy in even the most trying situations and acceptance of the lack of fairness in life.

Now in my 40s, parenting continues to shape me.  I always wanted to be a mom, but now that I am and that the children are getting older at what feels like an epic pace, I am grappling with every life lesson I need to teach them. In the midst of those lessons, I am finding that they are teaching me more about myself than I could have ever learned on my own. Parenting does not get easier with age. Older parents who say, “It gets easier. Just wait, you’ll see!” lie like a rug. It gets better and harder every day.

I don’t know what else will shape me in my 40s. I never thought when I was a waitress that I’d be writing about that experience 20 years later.

Since I’ve hit 4-0, I am checking off a different box at the doctor’s office. I’m experiencing a similar feeling when you check off that box that you are over 35 and pregnant. The plague. You might as well have the plague.

It means that if I start a new career or go back to school, I will be in class with students or have colleagues I could have birthed myself. (Not a deterrent, not a deterrent!)

I have new mantras. No news is good news! Never say never! You only live once! Find the positive! Life is good! Kale is not a product of the devil!

There’s also the inevitable change in my body. I think about a carb and gain a pound. I can no longer do an inversion in a public yoga class because of the sounds that involuntarily come from certain parts of my body.

Intimacy has taken on new meaning. We bribe each other like 7-year-olds.  If you put the kids to bed, I’ll…and so on.

I don’t underestimate the value of a random conversation with a stranger. A lot of amazing things in my life have begun with a random conversation with a stranger.

At my recent annual dermatologist screening, I was asked, “Can I help you with anything else?” I broke out into a sweat. “Yes.  I mean no. Well, I mean, what do you think?” as I purposely frowned. By the looks of his assistant, who was expressionless at 60, I knew I was in for it. I never thought I’d be having that type of conversation, ever.

Forty seemed so old to me when I was 20. But now it doesn’t. I don’t feel old. It just feels like time passes quicker, and I’m turning into my mother.  (I, too, store tissues in the sleeves of my sweaters). And that unspoken “I will live forever!” feeling of my youth has left the building. Maybe it’s due to those continual Facebook updates with inspirational quotes and pictures of sunrises, but I doubt it. It seems like I blinked away the past two decades.

I fall into a reflection trap with every milestone. But now, I take it a little easier on myself and the reflection is not so prolonged (Yay! says the husband who I just bribed to take out the trash).  Peeking backwards helped me to see so clearly how uncertain, unpredictable and miracle-like the future will be.

This is 40.

—Jen Winn

Jen Winn, who just turned 40, is a parenting columnist for a small arts and entertainment magazine in New Jersey.

Reflections of Erma