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“Blow me!”

Let me just start by saying this, I love my son. Sometimes so much I want to devour him.

However, since turning 3 (less than a month ago), he is driving me nuts.  The mommy and Oscar time we previously enjoyed while shopping has turned into all-out battles.  I know I shouldn’t care what other people think, but when my child is the one laying on the ground of the parking lot screaming because he doesn’t want to ride in the regular cart — he wants to ride in the stupid plastic car cart (that I told him was broken) — I start to get a little self-conscious.

Prior to this, we would go to the grocery store and count apples. I would enjoy a coffee while he would have chocolate milk. Now I have to distract him when we pass the balloons, the doughnuts and the deli. I curse the woman who gave him a free cheese! It ends up in a ball in his pocket, and I don’t find it until it has been run through the washer a week later.

I eventually convinced him to ride in the regular cart because the car ones were taken (God working miracles), but he has got a serious attitude problem and I fear we have created a jerk. There, I said it. My 3-year-old is acting like a jerk. There have been times when he was screaming so loud that I have actually rolled up the windows because I didn’t want people to think I was hurting him. When all he wanted was for me to stop singing the “finger song.” I have actually broken down and cried out of frustration, and I think I saw him smirking.

If you don’t know what the finger song is, and you are curious, you can find it on YouTube, but I warn you, it will get stuck in your head and never leave and you will find yourself alone with your husband on a date making up alternative dirty lyrics.

This time at the grocery store Oscar wanted Cheez-Its. How or why he knew of these, I don’t know, but he can read now. Impressive? Yes, and annoying. No longer can I tell him that those are spicy mushroom crackers (he hates spicy mushrooms); he is too smart. I mean, he literally can read, really well. Every time one of his brothers got into trouble, a viable punishment was to read to Oscar. This has meant hours and hours and hours…and hours of reading time. Which resulted in him reading at age 3. We can’t take any credit, other than our son’s misbehavior.

So I gave in to avoid a screaming fest. He decided he would open it and eat them out of the box. He also has a horrible runny nose and, despite being a problem child, he is diligent about blowing his nose. We have told him to blow and he does so willingly because he hates the feeling of a runny nose. Well, luck would have it, my tissues were in my coat, which I wasn’t wearing. So we have a cheesy orange snot mess on his upper lip. After I inconspicuously dump the fruit snacks in the bread aisle (because the last thing we need is more sugar), we are ready to check out. I approach the checkout with a large 3-year-old with his hand in a box of Cheez-Its yelling “blow me” louder and louder.  If having him lay on the cement was embarrassing, this was mortifying.  What people don’t know is that all he wants is for me to put a tissue up to his nose to “blow,” but he’s looking more like a spoiled brat who has been repeating his Daddy.

The checkout guy and the bag boy are trying hard not to laugh, but, thankfully, when I ask if they have a tissue, they hand me a paper towel. It worked, at least to stop the escalating volume of “blow me!” The only thing that would have made this even more iconic was to offer him a cigarette. Just when I think I’m free to escape and hide, he discovers that the fruit snacks are missing.  At this point I just want to leave, and I have lied so many lies to just get him out of the store that I decided to add one more. I told him we have some at home. I know, we must have a crusty package laying around somewhere so it’s not a total lie, but I just want to get the hell out of this damn store and situation.

I may be a little tired, which is causing my fuse to be short. But it’s hard to sleep when this adorable 3-year-old sneaks in at 12:30 every night and buries himself like a tick in the sheets and pillows right smack in the middle of the bed. He is unable to be pried free without tweezers or fire. Sure, Don and I feel him there between us, but after saying “not it” to each other regarding taking him back to his bed, we both hope the other will give in. It never happens.

Oscar is the strongest-willed little guy I have ever known — and maybe in history. He reminds me so much of his older brother that it scares me.  Really, it scares me because it was a rough ride five years ago when Finegan was 3. Plus I was younger then and followed a proper parental code. We even sought professional help on how to deal with his tantrums. Now we are a watered-down cocktail of misheard parenting advice and weariness.

The bottom line is I love my little jerk. At least I know that when he screams “blow me,” he means it with the purest of intentions. It’s only a matter of a decade before those words change to bite me, but by that time, I will be reminded that I have been wanting to devour him since the very first time I laid eyes on him.

— Noelle Elliott

Noelle Elliott is a publicist at the University of Notre Dame, writer and proud mother of four crazy boys.  She is also the creator of The Mamalogues, Dramas from Real Mamas, a staged production of readings by women, which has sold out audiences. She is a regular contributing writer for Family and Sassy magazines.  In addition, she writes a popular blog, BowChicaBowMom.com, where she shares her triumphs, failures and journey of survival in a life surrounded by testosterone.

A living, a life

(This essay will appear in the winter issue of the University of Dayton Magazine.)

“I’m pregnant!”

When you’re making an important announcement, a quip can defuse the tension.

After my colleagues laughed loudly, I shared the real news: I was leaving my job to devote more energy to writing and special projects — in a part-time role, in an effort to find that elusive work-life balance. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have expressed their envy.

Before longtime University of Dayton President Brother Ray Fitz took a chance and promoted a 29-year-old newcomer, he asked me, “Can you make a commitment?”

I’ve had the opportunity to help shape the public image of two outstanding presidents, hire gifted creative people, interview the biggest names in school history and announce virtually every major UD news story in a quarter of a century. I’m humbled by the experience and deeply grateful for the trust bestowed on me.

It’s been the best job anyone could ever hope to hold. Still, I will not miss middle-of-the-night phone calls about what one of my favorite administrators euphemistically called “special events” — a little havoc in the student neighborhood.

It’s time to write the next chapter.

Or maybe it’s time to pause, reflect and rewrite the definition of “work.”

Here’s what I learned since quitting my job.

#1: We long for balance in our lives. I received hundreds of emails and Facebook comments, and that theme pervades. We all want more time in our lives — for our family, for our friends, for our passions. “I know so many people who are just drained,” said one journalist friend with twin daughters.

#2: This yearning doesn’t come from just my stressed-out women friends. Men, too, see greater balance. “(I’m still) figuring out for the rat race’s exit ramp,” wrote a younger male friend.

#3: Work is life. A friend pointed me to an essay by Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. “There is so much of me that has grown through work. It is the place where I put my values to the test. … Was I worthy of the trust put in me? Did I pause to let grace have a chance?” she wrote for the Catholic News Service.

I realize how blessed I am to work for a president and vice president who believe I can continue to contribute to the University’s mission and momentum — and are willing to allow me more time for other pursuits.

Observation #4: Our lives are a calling.

“Can you make a commitment?” a university president once asked me. Today, I realize why it’s still so easy to say with confidence, “Yes.”

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi, founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, stepped down as associate vice president for University communications at the University of Dayton in October 2013. She’s currently executive director of communications strategies, a part-time role that allows her more time to write and to work with a planning committee of creative people — writers, marketing experts and a graphic designer — on shaping the upcoming Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Vatican blooper

(This piece originally appeared in the Patriot Ledger on Oct. 22, 2013. Reposted by permission of Suzette Martinez Standring.)

It was a big Vatican-related blooper.  What would “Lesus” do?  Nobody knows, but Jesus would have spelled his own name correctly. The Italian State Mint issued 6,000 misspelled medals to commemorate Pope Francis’ papal ascension.  Oopsie!

On the commemorative coin, the correct Latin phrasing should have been, “Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum et quia miserando antque eligendo vidit, ait illi sequere me.”

Instead it reads (and I’m giving you the English translation): “Lesus, therefore, saw the publican, and because he saw by having mercy and by choosing, He said to him, ‘Follow me.”

I will take Jesus’ lead and have mercy to the person responsible and say, “Come follow me…to the eye doctor.”

At first I thought the “L” was an ancient use of lettering unfamiliar to me.  After all, the “U” in Jesus is written as a “V,” which is very common in Latin engravings.

But “L” cannot substitute for “J.” The Roman letter, “L,” symbolizes “fifty.”  Fifty-esus? The very sound of it goes from the sacred to the profane, as in “That’ll cost you fifty-esus.”  Perhaps some rapper might call himself 50-esus to rival 50-Cent.

It’s handy when mistakes can be melted down, and the Vatican has recalled all of the remaining gold, silver and bronze medals this month.

Make no mistake. I am not on my high horse about the error.  I cringe at my own past misspellings, often hastily written.  Wrongly spelled names, “open to the pubic,” really, I should know better.

Remember when Chevrolet built the Chevy Nova? They couldn’t understand why it wasn’t selling in South America until they realized that “no va” in Spanish means “no go.”

I got a kick out of reading a list of the worst typos in history. Some errors in judgment were way more expensive than mine.

In my past, I recall an acquaintance who broke up with “Yuko,” and replaced her with a new girlfriend named “Yuki.”  A different (slightly embittered) ex of his remarked to me, “He went from monkey to donkey with one letter.”

Well, taking my savior’s lead again, I say, “This, too, shall pass.”

As to the blooper papal medals, the four that were purchased before the major recall will rise in value as rare collector items.

That’s the flip side of the coin. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

— Suzette Martinez Standring

Suzette Martinez Standring is the award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists and the former president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She writes a national spirituality blog and newspaper columns for GateHouse Media. “My writing goal is bring folks together, think outside the box and laugh at ourselves through the bonds of faith,” she says.

A haven for columns

ColumnistsGarret Mathews, a retired Courier and Press (Evansville, Ind.) metro columnist, has published Columnists: While We’re Still Around. The book provides “a haven for columns of more than two dozen men and women of similar mind who entertain (or entertained) countless readers with their prose,” he says. His first book, Favorites, is available online for free.

The day my wedding dress tried to kill me

Do you still have your wedding dress?

I do. I never got it together to have it professionally packed and hermetically sealed or whatever it is you are supposed to do with a wedding dress. So, yeah, 14 years later my wedding dress is in one of the bedroom closets. It’s in a hanging bag, which, while a halfhearted effort at preservation, is still an effort. I consider the fact that it’s not stuffed in a Hefty bag with some old towels and stashed in the basement a win.

My daughters came across it not long ago and wanted to try it on. I, of course, obliged. Their small frames were enveloped in the satiny folds, as I pinched the back together and helped them each to the mirror to look at themselves.

And then, excitement shone in their eyes as they cried, “Mommy! You try it on!”

Well. Okay. I could do this. After all, how much could my body have changed after three kids? (I’ll pause while you finish laughing.  Um, okay, you can stop now.)  I went into my room and closed the door, so I could make a grand “Ta-Da!” entrance. Stepping into the dress, I pulled it up and put the straps over my shoulders. “So far so good,”I thought. “And it still fits in the waist! Yay me!” I said to myself smugly.

And then I reached behind be to pull up the zipper, I got it halfway up and… it stopped.

“Hmmm. It must be jammed,” I thought.  I pulled the zipper back down and started over again.  Again, I got it halfway up, and it stuck.

It was then I realized that the dress was pulling so tight across my ribcage, and the zipper was gapping so much in the back, that there was no way I was going to get it zipped up.

Had my ribcage expanded? Is this a thing that happens from carrying children? I’m about the same weight I was before I had kids, but just shaped… differently.  More like a russet potato. After a couple more fruitless attempts, I realized I wasn’t going to get that zipper to pull up no matter what I tried. But, since denial is my specialty, I had another bright idea.

What if I zipped up the zipper all the way, and then pulled the wedding dress over my head? Ah ha! Surely I could just slip into it, pull it down, and voila! It would be a little tight, but I could certainly handle that for a few minutes.  Yes. That was the way to go.

After zipping it all the way up I lifted the heavy garment over my head, and went in headfirst. Layers and layers of fabric cascaded around me as I wiggled my way upward, upward. I stretched my arms toward the armholes. Stretch, reach, wiggle.  Almost there.

And then I wasn’t.

The downward progression of my wedding dress had come to an unfortunate halt.

And I was now firmly stuck in it, my head somewhere below the bodice, with my arms pinned straight upwards.

“Um,” I thought. “This… this is a problem.”

I jumped up and down, hoping the momentum would help the dress move downward. No such luck. I was stuck tighter than ever.

Without the use of my arms, which were still pinned upwards, I couldn’t pull the dress the other direction and go back the way I’d come in. I also couldn’t reach the zipper to free myself.

I started to pant inside the heavy lace fabric I was now wedged into, partly because it was becoming warm, but mostly out of rising panic.  Did I mention I’m claustrophobic?  Fun times.

“Eeerrrggghh! Mmmmmppphhh! Aaaaaggggh!” Hop hop hop. ”Oooooooof!” Arms in the air, I performed moves reminiscent of the inflatable dancing stick man outside of the local muffler shop.

I panted. I sweated, my face mashed against the lining. I pictured my kids bursting into the room to find my lifeless body on the floor, stuck half in and half out of a wedding dress, and clad only in Target brand underpants.

My husband would be widowed. My children would be motherless. “What happened to your mom?” They would be asked. “Oh, it’s a really sad story,” they would reply. “She smothered to death trying to prove she was the same size she was when she was married.” My demise would forever be a moral to a sad tale of vanity gone wrong.

No. I would not allow my children to find me this way. “YOU WILL NOT WIN, YOU HEAR ME?” I shouted, er, gasped, because I’m positive I was dangerously low on oxygen. In mere seconds, I would have been walking toward the light in that damn stupid wedding dress.  In a burst of strength and adrenaline, and possibly a split seam or two, I managed to angle one arm just enough to grab the fabric and pull myself free.

Once I recovered from my ordeal, I hung the dress back in the closet. I haven’t gotten it back out since then, but every once in a while I like to walk by it, and whisper threats of stuffing it in a Hefty bag in the basement. You know, just to show it who’s  boss.

— Lisa Packer

Lisa Packer is a humor writer, freelance copywriter and blogger. Her blog, Notes from the Shallow End, is a Top Ten finalist for Blogger Idol 2013. She lives with her husband and three children in Cincinnati.

Required courses

Welcome to the Adolescent Remedial Guidance Home Help Program (A.R.G.H) School of Remedial Learning! We’re glad you’re considering our program. This intense, competency-based curriculum is designed for students who grapple with the obvious tasks in everyday life. Our school fills educational gaps often misunderstood or tuned out during private, individualized home instruction.

Our qualified, experienced instructors help students face the challenges of daily life. Graduates of our programs are better prepared to face the rigors of living in a household shared with family, friends or roommates.

Please read below for our course listing. (Discounts are given upon registration of more than one class. All-day intensives are also available).

Toilet Paper Roll Changing (Course Number: 0244)

Students learn how to execute the basic properties and intricacies of changing a toilet paper roll. Using a multi-sensory approach, students identify an empty roll, locate a new roll, change the roll and dispose of the cardboard tubing.

This is a hands-on course. Students will come away with an understanding of the spring mechanism inherent in a toilet paper holder as well as proper identification of a full and empty roll.

Dish Maneuvering (Course Number: 0232)

This class focuses on the skills needed to maneuver plates, cups and utensils from any location to a dishwasher or drying rack. Students will demonstrate the ability to pick up dishes and transport them safely and efficiently to the sink area and then promptly remove food particles before placing in dishwasher. Emphasis is placed on identifying and avoiding pitfalls common in dish maneuvering, such as leaving dishes in sink without moving to next step. By semester’s end, students will execute the proper operations in the correct order. (Extra consideration will be given for ability to load dishwasher or drying rack with maximum efficiency.)

*Note: This course is a prerequisite for “Emptying Dishwasher (Course Number: 0242).”

Towel Hanging (Course Number: 0254)

In this inquiry-based, multidisciplinary course, students gain hands-on experience hanging wet towels, and learn a variety of options for towel hangers, such as bars, racks and hooks. Discussions will include inherent problems with using the backs of chairs and the floor as towel holders. Instructors will cultivate the students’ ability to recognize when a towel needs to be washed. Homework includes identifying appropriate towel hangers within the home.

*Prerequisites: a basic grasp of the properties of gravity, a rudimentary understanding of mold and mildew propagation and a working knowledge of personal hygiene.

Removing Toothpaste From Sink Area (Course Number: 0264)?

One of our most deceptively challenging courses. Curriculum is specifically designed for those students who believe they have already mastered the challenges inherent in rinsing toothpaste off the sink. The instructor will guide students through the necessary and imperative steps to ensure that all toothpaste and toothpaste foam is successfully rinsed down the drain.

This course also covers the necessary steps to replace the lid on a tube of toothpaste. Extra consideration will be given to students who can maximize efficiency when squeezing out toothpaste.

*Note: This class does not delve into the properties of basic oral hygiene, focusing instead on the environment surrounding the action.

Undressing Effectively (Course Number: 0322)

This course will critically analyze the relationship between clothes-wearer and clothes-washer. Students will learn the finer art of removing clothes without inverting items and how to keep clothing separated. Students will focus on successfully removing a pair of pants with neither socks nor underwear balled up inside and will learn to take off shirts, sweaters, pants, socks and other articles of clothing properly and efficiently. Emphasis is placed on correctly identifying inside-out and right-side out. Extra credit will be given to students who can correctly identify the difference between the space just outside a dirty clothes receptacle and the space inside said receptacle.

Note: Please come fully clothed to all sessions. This is a G-rated course and no nudity will be permitted.

Folded Clothes (Course Number: 0328)

This advanced-level class builds on the concepts and skills covered in “Undressing Effectively (Course Number: 0322)” with an emphasis on mastering the delicate act of moving clean, folded clothes into dresser drawers or onto hangers in closets. An accelerated version of this course guides students in the finer art of searching through a drawer without unfolding the items contained within. Emphasis is on speed and skill of maneuvering without disrupting.

Don’t see what you’re looking for? Classes are being developed regularly. For a complete listing of courses as well as those being considered, please email us at yeahright@argh.edu.

— Laura Amann

Laura Amann is a freelance writer and editor who mothers a brood of four in the Chicago area. Her award-winning essays have also appeared in Salon, the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Parent. This essay originally appeared in Brain, Child.

Mike Sacks

Mike SacksViking/Penquin will publish Mike Sacks’ fourth book, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, this month (June 2014). It’s a sequel to his 2009 book, And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Humor Writers About Their Craft.  He has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Radar, Funny or Die, MAD, New York Observer, Premiere, Believer, Vice, Maxim, Women’s Health and Salon. He has worked at The Washington Post, and is currently on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair.

An open letter to my ovaries

(Reposted by permission of Tracy Beckerman. This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post on Oct. 18, 2013.)

Dear Jezebel and Medusa,

I thought it was time I wrote you, my dear ovaries, a letter. Word on the street has it that you are not happy about the fact that you are still in business.

I don’t blame you. You’ve been doing the whole egg release thing since I was 12. I’d be bored if I had the same job for 37 years, too. But rather than just pack up and close shop like most middle-aged ovaries would do, you just keep on truckin’ on. And then every month you make a big stink about the fact that you’re overworked and underappreciated.

Really ovaries, really?

Recently you even enlisted the help of Ursula, my uterus. Now all three of you are protesting each month.

Is this my fault? No! I was perfectly okay with the idea that you could go into retirement at this point in my life. My kids are teens. Older teens. As far as I’m concerned, the kitchen is closed. There will be no more buns in the oven. I actually think there is a design flaw here. I think once I made the decision I was done having kids, you all could have just shut down production. Closed the plant. Moved to a senior community in Florida or whatever it is that retired ovaries do during their golden years. Yeah, I get that there are some important hormones that you make that keep my bones strong and my mood stable. But clearly that last part isn’t working so well anyway.

I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate, because you ladies have served me well over the years. You (along with my husband) are responsible for the two greatest joys in my life. Of course I could have done without the 36 hours of labor for the first kid, but I don’t think that was your fault. Then there was that cyst on Jezebel that hurt so bad I wanted to punch Bill O’Reilly. (I actually wanted to do that anyway and was just looking for a reason, so thanks for that). But overall, you two have been pretty awesome.

But lately, you’ve been showing your mean side. Awful cramps. Erratic schedules. Bloating. Seriously, I get that you’re unhappy, but do we really need all the drama?

Get with your ovary union. Tell me your demands. I’m sure we can reach a settlement.

This country was built on cooperation and compromise. Just ask the federal government! On second thought, scratch that.

I think we all know it’s time for a change. Do you really want to be the oldest functioning ovaries on the block? There is a great deal of honor in quitting at the top of your game. I, personally, would be happy to give you an award for your years of service. You have functioned ovary and above the call of duty.

I was told that this time in our lives is called Peri-menopause. I’m not sure who this Peri chick is, but I don’t think she was invited to the party. Let’s work together to kick her out of the sorority and let Menopause hang out with us. I actually think she’d be a lot more fun…

Period.

With warmest regards,

Tracy

— Tracy Beckerman

Tracy Beckerman writes the syndicated humor column and blog, “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by more than 400 newspapers in 25 states and on 250 websites to approximately 10 million readers. She’s also the author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir and  Rebel Without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs. She has served on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

Reflections of Erma