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Fringe fashion failure

Elaine AmbroseI felt feisty, fun and a fabulously festive in my new dress festooned with fringe. The long strands covered body parts that needed to be hidden after years of neglect, gravity and buttered scones, but the swaying material allowed gratuitous glimpses of legs that once rivaled the gams in pinup posters hung in greasy automotive shops across the country. I was one hot grandmother.

I loved my new outfit and eagerly prepared for a night at an elegant soiree. The first trial came when I attempted to pull on a coat to keep me warm against the winter chill. As I wiggled into my wrap, the fringe on the sleeves of the dress snagged, bunched, and clumped until I resembled an irritated pig wrapped in twine. Stray strands knotted around my neck and hiked the back of the dress over my butt. This was not a pretty vision, and I began to feel less glamorous.

After waddling to the car, I proceeded to the party where I encountered more challenges. Removing the coat revealed a tangled mass of disheveled strands that seemed to be embroiled in a fight-to-the-death battle. I clawed at the material in a desperate attempt to untangle the hairball that was consuming my outfit. Once adjusted, I walked slowly so I wouldn’t disrupt the delicate free flow of the garment. Static cling became the new enemy. At any given moment, a rogue fringe would leap out and adhere to the pants of a tall handsome stranger. At least my dress had good taste.

The evening progressed nicely, and I enjoyed gushing compliments about my dress. I assumed the worst was behind me and celebrated with several glasses of fine Cabernet. After a few hours, the wine needed to exit the body, so I sashayed to the restroom. This call of nature became a cry of the wild.

I proceeded to gather the fringe in a ball around my waist so I could sit and assume the position. It became apparent that wasn’t any chance to control what seemed like a million independent and defiant strands, and the wine didn’t help my concentration. By the time I finished my duty, I realized there was one more dilemma. One hand was needed to secure and employ the necessary toilet paper.

I shifted the wad of fringe to one side and attempted to secure it with one hand while I fumbled for the paper. The effort was futile. After achieving contortions only accomplished by professional gymnasts in the circus, I managed to drop the paper on the floor and the fringe fell into the toilet. I momentarily lost my mind.

Not one to give up easily, I grabbed more paper, finished the flush, and jumped off the comedy commode. Liquid dripped onto the floor from wet stripes of sorry, violated fringe so I grabbed sections to squeeze out the excess moisture. Soon my hands, my dress, and the entire bathroom reeked of toilet water. I washed and dried my hands, took a deep breath, and joined the party, dripping all the way, leaving a raked pattern of fringe droppings on the carpet.

I left the party and hurried home, jumped into my dowdy but fringe-free jammies, poured a glass of wine and relaxed in comfort. I may donate the dress to charity and allow someone else to enjoy its charms. But, for a brief moment in time, I felt festive and fashionable and those sweet memories will last long after the humiliation is gone. As for future fashion choices, I’ll avoid the fringe element of society.

— Elaine Ambrose

Elaine Ambrose is an award-winning author of 10 books, and her blog posts are published on several websites including The Huffington Post, HumorOutcasts and Midlife Boulevard. Her latest book, Midlife Cabernet, won the Silver Medal for Humor from the Independent Book Publisher Awards program, and Publishers Weekly claimed the book is “Laugh-out-loud funny!” Foreword Reviews wrote that the book is “an Erma Bombeck-esque argument for joy.” She is a speaker at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Read about her books and blog at www.elaineambrose.com.

Easter

Jon ZieglerOne Easter a while back, I decided that I was going to create the Easter egg hunt of all Easter egg hunts for my 3- and 5-year-old daughters.

I spent nearly the entire day before purchasing and stuffing plastic eggs with candy, money and small trinkets. With the aid of a crudely drawn map of our two-acre yard, I meticulously plotted and hid each little treasure. I could hardly wait to see the girls’ excitement as they searched for their Easter eggs.

The next morning, my wife and I led the girls out into the yard and gave each one a huge empty basket. I explained to my wide-eyed daughters that the Easter bunny had hidden Easter eggs all over the yard for them to find.

“What’s an Eeeter egg?” my younger daughter asked.

“You know, like an egg that a bird lays…only the Easter bunny brings it!” I answered, amazed that she didn’t know what an Easter egg was. “You’ll know when you find one.”

So, with a mixture and excitement and a touch of confusion, off they went in search of their Easter treasures.

After about 10 minutes, my wife and I walked over to check on the girls’ progress. As I approached my younger daughter, Natalie, I asked, “How many Easter eggs have you found, baby girl?”

“A whooooole bunch,” she said, holding up her Easter basket.

Looking inside the basket, I was surprised to see that there was not a single egg in her basket. Instead, there were several round rocks, a bottle cap and what looked like the pelvis and legs of an apparently long-dead rodent of some kind.

“Oh, no, baby girl, those aren’t…”

Just then, a blood-curdling scream came from the other side of the yard. My other daughter, Hannah, came wailing and running full speed from behind the shed, still clutching her Easter basket, which contained what looked like a football-size, egg-shaped hornet nest. My wife, who had gone to check on her, was fleeing in the opposite direction, swatting the air frantically.

Like a flash, I took off on a dead run toward Hannah, who was screaming in horror and from the pain of being stung. Snatching the hornet basket from her hand, I veered away from her and threw it like a grenade over the hedge that framed our property.

But there was no time to stop and check on poor Hannah. Instead, my next concern was my wife, who was very allergic to bees.

It took a few seconds of sprinting to catch up to her in the front yard. She was screaming and swatting with all her might at a single bee that was swirling around her head. Not knowing what else to do, I began following behind her, swatting as well and smacking her on the head every time the hornet made an attempt to land.

In her flailing panic, she fell to the ground and began to flounder like a fish stranded on the shore. I feared that her being a stationary target would make her more vulnerable to the attacking insect, so I began to drag her by her shirt collar, which ripped.

“I think it’s gone,” she managed to say between panting and sobbing, but I didn’t have time to even think about her words when a police car came sliding into the driveway, and two officers jumped out with guns drawn. I could only assume my neighbor across the street had noticed the commotion and called them — the very neighbor who had been less than friendly to me ever since my “trees are easier to burn standing, than after you cut them down” incident.

So there I was, red-faced and panting, standing over my sobbing wife, who had collapsed on the ground with a ripped shirt, and my hand raised high in the air ready to smack her on the head if the devilish hornet returned. Hannah, the one who had found the Easter hornet nest, was standing not far away, crying loudly. Her lip and the area around her left eye were swollen surprisingly large from what I could only assume were hornet stings. I had no idea where Natalie had gone to.

“Get away from her, you sick bastard!” one of the officers yelled with a great amount of contempt in his voice.

“No, no, Officer! It’s not what it looks like!” I said, realizing how bad the situation must appear.

“Did you do that, too?” the other officer asked, nodding toward Hannah, whose eye was almost swollen shut and her lip nearly as big.

“NO, I was just trying—”

“Hey!” the second officer interrupted. “Aren’t you the idiot who decided to burn his trees down last summer?”

But before I could even begin to explain the logic in the tree burning, Natalie trotted out from around the corner of the house and over to the two gun-holding officers. Smiling, she looked up and said, “My daddy says we can find Eeeter eggs,” and with that, she pulled a piece of hardened dog poop out of her basket and held it up as if to offer it to the officer. His gaze of contempt grew even more intense.

“It’s not what it looks like!” I pleaded, not even sure where to start. “We’re going to an Easter church service!” (I’m not even sure why I thought that would help, but I was desperate.)

Finally, my wife had calmed down enough to begin explaining the situation herself, and a questioning of my daughter Hannah eventually revealed that a hornet had assaulted her. I’m not sure they believed that I had actually hidden Easter eggs, since neither girl had anything in her basket other than rocks, a dead animal, a hornet nest and dog poop, but I could live with that.

In the years following, Easter baskets were sitting next to the girls’ beds, already filled, when they woke up in the morning. The girls didn’t like talking about the Easter bunny any longer. They had reasoned that he was a bit like Santa, and if you had been naughty in the previous year, you would not find Easter eggs. Instead, you would be attacked by bees, and the police would come and point their guns at you.

— Jon Ziegler

Jon Ziegler is a husband, father of two girls and a tree trimmer who started writing as an outlet for what he calls “creative madness.” He’s the author of Single Family Asylum.

Attack of the 60-foot Easter bunny

 

Myron KuklaThe Easter Bunny broke into our house the other night and left a pink, blue and green Easter tree in our living room.

The tree is about 2 feet high and decorated with bunnies, Easter eggs, carrots and other cute critters.

My first thought when I saw the thing was, “What the hell is that doing here?” I must have also said those words out loud as well because my wife, Madeline, got kind of defensive suddenly.

“That’s an Easter Tree,” she said, explaining the meaning of all the cute things hanging from the tree’s pastel limbs. “The Easter Bunny must have brought it.”

While my wife may have thought the idea of a furry marauder sneaking into our house in the middle of the night, skulking around while we lay sleeping was cute, the image brought shivers to my spine.

You see, I do not have the same warm and cuddly childhood memories of the Easter Bunny as most people. Mine are quite horrifying.

The Easter Bunny monster

When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny was just a mythical creature that most kids believed would bring them chocolate candy and eggs on Easter. Except in my house.

When I was 5 years old, I naively asked my older brother, Stan, how the Easter Bunny came into being. My brother told me that the Easter Bunny was created as the result of an unauthorized government experiment with atomic radiation that changed the molecular structure of a common rabbit so that it grew to gigantic proportions, was able to fly and breathe fire.

“You know, just like Godzilla,” he said, passing on this bit of wisdom to his little brother.

Attack of the bunny monster       

Ever since that day, I have lived in fear of the Easter Bunny.

Weeks before Easter, I would imagine a 60-foot-tall Easter Bunny coming to attack our little town, trampling its homes and street cars under furry rabbit feet while lobbing 8-foot Easter eggs like mortar shells at our municipal buildings.

I would have nightmares where I’d wake up from a deep sleep and there would be this giant pink eye peaking in through my bedroom window at me.

My brother didn’t help. Before bed, Stan would terrorize me with stories of giant bloody bunny tracks being found in the field beside our house. He also told me how someone’s pet collie was discovered encased in a 5-foot-high pile of bunny droppings.

Then, to make matters worse, a Hollywood horror movie came out called Night of the Lapin in which civilization is attacked by giant mutated bunnies who munch on unwary humans. My brother took me to see it and told me it was a documentary.

He once had a friend show up at our house with the sleeve of a bloody shirt ripped off and his arm missing. The two of them told me a giant rabbit had bit his arm off. I didn’t even catch on when his friend grew his arm back the next day. My brother just said the arm growing back was a result of the atomic poisoning in the rabbit’s blood.

Easter parade of horror

And why shouldn’t I believe my brother about the Easter Bunny? He’s the same person who warned me about vampires, werewolves and zombies that lived in our neighborhood.

I lived in terror at the expected coming of the Easter Bunny. I couldn’t understand why other children where so happily looking forward to his annual visit.

My fear was so great, I once passed out when my parents took me to an Easter parade and a giant bunny balloon appeared from around the corner. I avoided Easter egg hunts in those days like the plague, imagining the wanton devastation a berserk 60-foot Easter Bunny could reek on innocent children lured to an open field in the quest of Easter eggs.

There was a way to protect yourself. My brother told me that the way to stop an Easter Bunny attack was to hang crucifixes made out of blessed palms in my widows and walk backward for seven days. So, while other kids were out frolicking in the sun the week before Easter, I spent my childhood warding off giant Easter Bunny attacks by braiding crosses and tripping over things I couldn’t see because I was walking backward.

I guess I had forgotten these things over the years, blanked them out from my conscious mind until I saw the Easter Bunny tree sitting in my living room. All of the terror of my youth came flooding back to me as I began inching away from the Bunny Tree.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asked. “Don’t you like it?”

“No, it’s fine,” I said, walking out of the room backward while looking over my shoulder. “I just have to go braid some crosses now.”

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a Midwest writer based in Holland, Michigan, Tulip capital of the world. He is the author of several books of humor including Guide to Surviving Life: A 3,487-step Guide to Self-Improvement and Confessions of a Baby Boomer available at www.squareup.com/store/myronkuklabooks. Email him at myronkuklabooks.com.

 

10 universal truths of parenting a teenager

Linda WolffMost parents of typical toddlers are constantly challenged, mentally drained and extremely exhausted. Not much changes when you’re raising a teenager.

Though unlike the “Terrible Twos,” teenagers are extremely verbal and, while you will still hear the emphatic “NO,” are like well-versed little lawyers: ready, willing and able to defend or plead their case. Just because they can feed themselves and, thankfully, wipe their own tushies, doesn’t make you home free. You still worry about what they eat, what they drink, if they play nice with others and pray they sleep in their own beds.

Here are 10 more truths of parenting a teenager:

Curfews are meant to be broken.

Taking a page out of my parents’ handbook, “Better late than never.” There really is no excuse not to call or text since their cell phones are — if they’re born after 1990 — practically second skin. However, you’d rather they be late than driving like mad to get home on time. Deep breaths help while you wait.

I hate you!

No, they don’t really hate you, no matter how many times or how convincingly they say it. They just can’t think of anything else as potent to say. The sooner you get used to hearing it the better.

But, everyone’s doing it! You’re so unfair!

Not everyone is “doing it, going there or even allowed to do it.” Teens have been successfully pitting parents against each other for years. Don’t fall for it.

One day you’ll have a kid just like you!

Your parents warned you you’d have a child just like you. And they were right! (Don’t ask me how I know.) What they didn’t tell you is that it would be YOU x 100.

Say the opposite of what you mean.

Say “No, you mustn’t,” and no sooner do you turn your back, chances are they’re already doing it. Every. Time. Pick your battles wisely.

You don’t understand!

Why, yes, yes I do. In fact, my generation, or maybe it was my parents’ or the generation before invented that. So, yes, I do understand, and the answer is still NO.

Can I Borrow This?

If you have a daughter and, if miraculously, she actually likes your taste, she will go shopping in your closet and will set her sights on your most precious possessions. Lucky for me by the time my daughter was ready for heels her foot was larger than mine. My handbags are not as safe. All I ask is that they come back in the same condition as they left. So far so good.

They want you. No, I really mean it.

They want you (and need you) in their lives more than they will ever let on. You may feel as if you’re only an ATM or a chauffeur, but don’t be fooled. They love you and need you more than ever. Just don’t ever expect to hear it.

Baby, you can drive my car.

If they borrow the car, it will most likely come back without gas and quite possibly smell like French fries, sweaty socks or worse. I’m just thankful they got home safely with the car and themselves intact. As I said, pick your battles wisely.

A little bit of humor goes a long way.

Especially when trying to diffuse idle threats. If your teen leans toward the dramatic — and honestly, whose doesn’t? — and threatens to run away because “you are so unfair” or the “worst parent ever,” though you know (for sure) they would never leave the safety and security of home and an open wallet, not to mention a well-stocked pantry, smile and say, “Great, I’ll help you pack,” then hum excitedly as you make your way to the storage closet full of suitcases.

Start begging or insisting they stay and you’ve turned this into a test of wills they might feel they have to make good on. Instead, let them save face and get annoyed you’re not taking them seriously. They’ll also be relieved. They just want to bitch and moan. It’s part of the territory.

I say this with authority (though take it with a grain of salt). My attempts at running away got me as far as the edge of our driveway. Instinctively, I knew I wasn’t going to get very far with a suitcase full of stuffed animals, two dollars and a bag of Oreos. I just wanted to be heard. Your kids do, too.

— Linda Wolff

Linda Wolff writes at Carpool Goddess, where she proves that midlife, motherhood and the empty nest aren’t so scary. Her essays have been published in numerous anthologies, as well as on The Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Scary Mommy, Club Mid and many more. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

Why writers are like teenage girls

Lisa BeachBeing a writer is kind of like being a teenage girl. One minute, you’re facing soul-crushing rejection; the next minute, you’re elated over a “he-likes-me” moment. Throw in a dash of overanalyzing other people’s words or behavior, and it’s an emotional roller coaster for sure.

Only instead of dealing with teen angst and boyfriend troubles, writers face a special brand of insecurity and rejection: doubt about our writing ability, unengaged readers, mean comments from Internet trolls, the silence of a bombed social media promotional post and a steady stream of “no thanks” from editors. And the ratio of editorial hits to misses seems to wax and wane more than the moon. Some weeks we’re on fire and other weeks we can barely write a clever, typo-free Facebook post.

Fortunately, most of us freelance writers make a boatload of money, so it makes all the anxiety worthwhile (said with great sarcasm).Meme-Being a Writer

Nevertheless, today I got another “no thanks.” While it’s better than hearing nothing at all (trust me, a writer wants closure, even if it’s a “don’t let the door hit ya on the way out”), getting a rejection always stings. And it usually kicks our overanalyzing nature into high gear, making us wonder what an editor’s rejection really means. In fact, writers might wonder any (or all) of the following, sometimes even spiraling into a negative vortex of unrelated self-doubt:

• Did I pitch the article to the wrong editor?
• To the wrong website/publication?
• Is the article not funny enough?
• Is it not funny at all?
• Am I not good enough?
• Should I quit?
• Am I too old to restart my career?
• Is that another wrinkle?
• Is my failure setting a bad example for my kids?
• Am I a bad parent?
• Why don’t we have any more wine?
• WHERE’S THE WINE?

Yes, the self-doubt can get the best of us (and by us, I mean me). So, on days when we’re not thinking clearly and plagued by self-doubt, here’s how writers might interpret the rejection email received today, this time for a humor writing contest.

What an Editor Says: Thank you for entering the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.
What Writers Hear: Thank you for bogging down the selection process with your sub-par entry. If you were one of our talented winners, we would have started this email with “Congratulations!” We know you got momentarily excited to see “Erma Bombeck Writing Competition” in the subject line. But you didn’t really think you had a chance, did you? (Writers can almost hear the editor’s virtual laughter at our hope, self-confidence and naivete.)

Editor: We had 463 entries this year from countries including Austria, New Zealand, Canada, and Spain, and all but two U.S. states.
Writers: You are a loser, not just in the United States, but all over the world! (Yay, us! Go big or go home, right?)

Editor: The essays ranged from funny and self-deprecating to poignant and heart-warming, and our panel of judges had their work cut out for them.
Writers: Unfortunately, your humor article, while self-deprecating, was not even the least bit funny. Seriously, do you understand what comedy is? Have you ever even heard the sound of real laughter? What were you thinking when you submitted this? Didn’t you read the winning entries from previous years? Yours wasn’t even close! Go back to copywriting.

Editor: Unfortunately, your essay was not chosen and if you received comments from your judges, I will pass them along as soon as I’m able.
Writers: We had so many tidbits of constructive criticism that our comments were longer than the actual article you submitted. Also, we’ve ordered you a copy of the latest edition of Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer, as you obviously need to master some of the fundamentals of good humor writing. Please, be generous with your use of a highlighter, don’t skip “Chapter 3: The Recipe for Humor” and dog-ear as many pages as necessary. In fact, you might benefit from a humor tutor. Please allow us to hook you up with this year’s contest winners.

Editor: To see a complete list of this year’s winning entries, please visit the library’s website.
Writers: To get a feel for real humor, please carefully ready these winning entries. Better yet, print them out, grab a pen and take copious notes on what makes people laugh. These writers know their stuff.  You, apparently, do not. I’m almost embarrassed for you.

Editor: Good luck in 2018!
Writers: Please, we beg you — do not bother with this contest next time, as we only want to read Erma-worthy material. Don’t discredit her good name by submitting anything resembling the mediocre piece you submitted this year. In fact, we’ll probably remove you from our mailing list so you don’t know the details for 2018. But if, in fact, you do decide to submit next time, please note that you have two entire years to improve your writing. Use it wisely. Reading through Erma’s At Wit’s End, binge-watch Seinfeld, go see a few stand-up comedians, watch the original cast of Saturday Night Live, follow Tina Fey on Twitter — whatever it takes. But, for the love of all things funny, please don’t subject us to your witless writing again.

— Lisa Beach

Lisa Beach is a freelance writer, blogger, mother of two teenagers and recovering SAHM/homeschooler who lived to write about it. Catch up with her at Tweenior Moments, Lisa’s humor blog about midlife, family, friends and all the baggage that goes with it. Follow Tweenior Moments on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

These products baby us

Lisa CarpenterMy husband recently turned old. Well, older. Old enough that since the birthday celebration, we’ve marveled in disbelief more than once that we’ve reached the age we have.

“I’m still working on figuring out what I want to be when I grow up,” I told him. To which he high-fived in agreement.

My husband and I have raised a family, kept our wits about us when our nest emptied, become grandparents, managed relatively successful careers (so far), successfully stayed together for more than 35 years (so far). We have a mortgage — and PLUS loans we’ll pay on til death closes our account.

Grownup responsibilities. Yet on the inside, my husband and I fail to feel like grownups, fail to see ourselves as grownups. From conversations with others near our age, we’re certainly not alone in that sometimes disorienting discrepancy.

I blame our stuck state of affairs on the popularity of products and pastimes that coddle and cater to the baby in us boomers — much to our delight, I admit — and allow us to stray ever so slightly from the lead of generations before us who fully embraced adulthood and never looked back.

COLORING BOOKS FOR ADULTS. We’ve all heard the news that coloring is the new yoga. It centers us, relaxes us, warms our hearts. It makes us feel like a kid again. I bought an adult coloring book. A brand-new box of colored pencils, too. (Far more mature a coloring tool than crayons, don’t ya think?) I cleared the table, cleared my head, and set to coloring. I wouldn’t swear to becoming centered or relaxed, but I did feel like a kid again. And was so proud of myself that I sang the Mister Rogers “Proud of You” song when I was through.

GUMMY VITAMINS. Why deal with the discomfort of swallowing gulps of water along with big, ol’ clunky, chunky daily vitamins when you can treat yourself to a, well, treat each morning with soft, sweet, chewy, gummy, yummy vitamins. Pills are for our parents; gummy vitamins are for the kid in all of us. I look forward to the day blood-pressure pills resemble (and taste like) M&Ms and ice cream is infused with estrogen. Make mine a double scoop, please, in a waffle cone.

BEER THAT TASTES LIKE SODA. I’ve long enjoyed martinis, margaritas and merlot. You know, the drinks grownups sip and savor. Then I was treated to root beer-flavored beer. In a bottle. I tried it. I liked it! I gulped that puppy down and asked for more. I recently learned a popular national burger eatery offers the yummy stuff on its menu, right alongside the IPAs and more mature alcoholic beverages. They even offer it as a root beer float — my favorite summertime treat as a child… and now! But wait! There’s more! A major beer brand just this year introduced a ginger ale hard soda and an orange-flavored hard soda, too. Cheers to that!

PLAYGROUNDS GEARED TOWARD GEEZERS. Senior playgrounds have been big news lately. You know, outdoor spots with swings and such that appeal to grandmas and grandpas (and other older folks, too), whether the grandkids join them or not. What boomer doesn’t still love to wiggle onto a swing, pump both legs, and soar high as can be? Forget fitness centers, the playground’s the place for me — whether my grandkids join me or not. One warning for us older kids: Beware jumping from those soaring swings or those brittle bones will surely be broken. And merry-go-rounds? Those darn things have always made me dizzy and now that simply getting out of bed gives me a headrush, those shall be avoided, too. The slides, though? They have my name written all over them (unless they’re metal and in the sun, which will surely scorch my currently crepey skin).

A CAR FOR LITTLE KIDS — PERFECTLY SIZED FOR BIG KIDS ADULTS. I admit to swinging and coloring, to slamming down root beer beer and gummy vitamins. This next one, though, I’ve never tried. Still, it makes me happy just to think that if I had the desire — and the dollars — even my ride to work or the dreaded grocery store could feel like play. I applaud (and admittedly envy) my fellow boomers fortunate enough to toodle on down the sidewalk, er, street in one of these. Check out the video.

Those things and more pamper and please us boomers, bring comfort and coddling to health matters and play time. Yes, they baby us. And I love it! And (semi-reluctantly) resign myself to never growing up.

Now if only there were something similar to ease and improve our work time. Say, a way to seem educated and authoritative — without ever having to read or research as real grownups are expected to do.

Hey, Siri: Is there an app for that?

— Lisa Carpenter

Lisa Carpenter is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in topics related to grandparenting, the empty nest and the baby boomer lifestyle. She publishes the Grandma’s Briefs website, stressing the vitality and relevance of today’s grandmothers. She also writes regularly for other sites around the web, including the Huffington Post and PurpleClover.com. Follow her on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Pinterest.

Big Girl Weekend

Jerry ZezimaThe surest sign that a toddler is getting big is when she becomes more mature than her grandfather. In the case of my granddaughter, Chloe, who is about to turn 3, that happened about three years ago.

Two other signs are when she gets her own bed and has her first haircut.

Both of those things happened to Chloe recently in what was dubbed, in case you missed the celebration, Big Girl Weekend.

Since she was born, Chloe had slept in a crib, which prevented her, as some grandfathers have been known to do, from getting up on the wrong side of the bed.

I don’t know what the wrong side of the bed is, unless it is against a wall, in which case you will hit your head when you get up and promptly fall back to sleep. Since I am off the wall, I have never had this problem. That’s why I have always thought that the right side of the bed is the top.

Anyway, Chloe had begun trying to climb out of her crib, a sure sign that it was time to get her a bed.

When Chloe heard the news from Mommy (my younger daughter, Lauren) and Daddy (my son-in-law Guillaume), she was very excited. Nini (my wife, Sue) chimed in, saying Chloe was going to get a “big-girl bed,” which made her even more excited.

When I (Poppie) added my two cents, which Chloe put in her piggy bank, she said, “Chloe’s a big girl. And Poppie’s a big boy.”

“Poppie has a big-boy bed,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t wake up on the wrong side of it and slam headfirst into a wall.

Lauren and Guillaume shopped around for a twin bed and a box spring, but naturally there were complications because one store offered one deal and another store offered another and never the twin did meet.

One day, Guillaume and I, thinking outside the box spring, lugged a box containing a bed, not a spring, back to one of the stores. Later, I went home and fell fast asleep in my own bed.

But rest assured, it all turned out OK because, on a recent Friday, Chloe’s new big-girl bed was delivered. She took to it like a fish to water, even though it’s not a water bed, and went right to sleep that night, probably dreaming of her first haircut, which she got the next day.

On Saturday morning, Sue and I went over to see the bed, which is higher than ours and a lot more comfortable. It also has two mattress guards, presumably so Chloe can’t get up on the wrong side.

“Do you like your bed?” I asked Chloe.

“Yes, Poppie!” she chirped. “I’m not a baby. I’m a big girl.”

And she proved it even further when Lauren, Guillaume, Sue and I took her to Hairport Salon in Port Jefferson, New York, for her first official haircut.

“She looks like Shirley Temple,” said Valerie, a very nice stylist who had the important assignment — and, if I do say so, the honor — of trimming and shaping Chloe’s blond curls.

Chloe sat calmly in a chair, holding three purple brushes while Valerie snipped her underlying baby hair. Chloe even helped by handing Valerie one of the brushes.

When the haircut was over, everyone told Chloe she looked beautiful.

Chloe smiled and bit into a cake pop that Lauren had given to her for being so good.

It was a fitting end to Big Girl Weekend. The next celebration will be this Saturday, on Big Boy Weekend, when Poppie gets up on the right side of the bed and goes for a haircut. I may even have a cake pop.

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

At Wit’s End

Allison and Margaret Engel fondly remember their mother sitting at the breakfast table with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in hand, shaking with laughter.

“She could only manage to get out two words — Erma Bombeck,” recalled Allison, who has collaborated with her twin sister on a one-woman play, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.

Starring stage and screen actress Barbara Chisholm, the play enjoyed its world premiere Oct. 9-Nov. 8 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. On April 1, Chisholm and the playwrights will bring a staged reading of the solo show to the University of Dayton’s sold-out Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. After the performance, the playwrights will join the Bombeck family on stage for a behind-the-scenes look at Erma’s life and enduring appeal.

The humorous production is described as “a look at one of our country’s most beloved voices, who captured the frustrations of her generation by asking, ‘If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?’” Chisholm, who portrays Erma, most recently appeared in the Oscar-winning 2014 film, Boyhood.Barbara_Chisholm

Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End is a loving tribute to the journalist who was lauded for opening up the secret world of the mother and housewife, to the public figure who used her budding fame to support the Equal Rights Amendment, and to the woman who loved her family. The play is full of Bombeck’s own words and humor and is written for an audience who already know and love her work,” according to a review by dctheatrescene.com.

This is the playwrights’ second one-act play that celebrates women humorists. In 2010, the two journalists and authors brought the feistiness of syndicated Texas political columnist Molly Ivins to life in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Kathleen Turner starred in the critically acclaimed production on stages in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Calif., and Washington, D.C.Allison and Margaret Engel

After the premiere of “Red Hot Patriot,” Aaron Priest, Bombeck’s agent and longtime friend, contacted the playwrights about their interest in bringing Erma to life on stage.

At the peak of her career, Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” column appeared in more than 900 newspapers, reaching 30 million readers. Her entertaining essays hung on refrigerator doors around the country because they captured so perfectly the foibles of family life. She’s arguably the most famous graduate of the University of Dayton, which honors her legacy through the popular biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. In 1996, she died of complications from a kidney transplant.

“It was such a delight to remember and read all of Erma’s books and columns,” Margaret said. “She is so witty and gets at the secret life of a family that makes us laugh in recognition.”

To research At Wit’s End, the sisters read her immense body of work — thousands of columns and a dozen books — and viewed “Good Morning America” clips from her 11 years on the show. They perused the University of Dayton’s online Erma museum for photographs, speeches and other material and interviewed Erma’s husband Bill, secretary Norma Born and the three children, Matt, Betsy and Andy.

“We had an avalanche of material to work with,” Allison said. “The family has been so wonderful as far as being generous with their time and remembrances.”

Matt Bombeck, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, said the family appreciated hearing Erma’s words performed. “The Engel sisters were absolutely the right playwrights to bring our mom’s humor to the stage,” he said. “We hope the play not only makes audiences laugh, but gives people a deeper insight into her life.”

The Engels’ appreciation for Bombeck grew enormously as they worked to translate her life for the stage. “We found her remarkable,” Allison said. “She was so well known that magazine polls showed her right up there with the pope among admired people, yet she didn’t go Hollywood. When the kids came home from school, she was just mom. We tried to portray that in the play. To be ordinary and have such remarkable fame, it’s almost impossible to pull that off.”

Bombeck poked fun at motherhood and housekeeping during a time of social change for women, drawing a legion of like-minded women as fans. “Many people probably don’t realize that she spent almost two years of her own time on her own dime stumping for the Equal Rights Amendment,” Margaret said. “She lived through the Depression and that experience of seeing what her (widowed) mother went through also informed her activism.”

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will close its 2016-2017 season with Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. The show plays May 6-June 4, 2017.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she also serves as executive director of strategic communications. (Illustration by Ed Fotheringham, courtesy of Arena Stage. Photo credit: Mark Berndt)

Reflections of Erma