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In the classroom

Miss?Laurel McHargue has published her first novel, Miss? The book exposes the failure of the struggling public education system. She also co-edited Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Stupid Kid (Publishing Syndicate).

My hormones ate the housework, the cheese and, possibly, the children

Every time I read that some male scientist has proven that PMS does not exist, I must laugh and laugh and laugh….and then sulk. Either that scientist does not live with a woman, has never known any women, or only socializes with those who project sainthood while in company, gnawing their couch pillows and eating their pounds of chocolate in private.

The older I get, the more I am just a mere pawn of my hormones, dust on the wind of my cyclical fate. No, the devil didn’t make me do it; the hormones did. They determine my mood, my energy, my libido, my good hair days, my behavior…my appetite for cheese and meat.

Where I am in the cycle means the difference between running out to greet my guy, just home from work, with kisses and cute monikers like Sugar Buns, Sexy Face and Pumpkin Head, or hiding behind the front door with an iron skillet in hand, cackling like the witch I am.

My bed is my best friend, and I will clothes-line anyone on my way when running to embrace it at 8:30 p.m. Every month I begin to yearn anew for one weekend alone to reconnect, a staycation where I stay in it for at least 24-to-72 hours straight. I’m not just TIRED. I am, to quote my mimicking husband, ”T-R-D - tarr’d!” Weary to the bone, my southern accent manifests itself in “ow’er” (hour), “toe-lit” (toilet) and “ire’un” (iron). I don’t yell at the kids anymore; I holler at them.

Because I am so T-R-D and resentful about it, my ambition to struggle against the constant state of near-collapse in this home vanishes, but, proportionately, the need to complain about it increases. I roll listlessly back and forth on the couch and upbraid, “Look at this mess! How can you guys bear to live in it? Doesn’t it bother you?” Then I roll over and read my self-help manual: Half a Month to a New You!

The symptoms have gotten so much worse as I’ve gotten older; someday they’ll be permanent. I blame it, at least in part, on my pregnancies. The first trimester of each drove me to insanity via an inundation of hormones, bringing at least one huge spectacle of which I was the star. I have never fully recovered my equilibrium.

For instance:

1) During my second pregnancy, I spent approximately two hours scream-lecturing my husband on the injustice of this whole “two to tango” business. It may take two to make a sweet bundle of joy, but only one of us will look like all that joy has been stored in our bubbly thighs and then sucked out of our flappy skin through our now enlarged feet. And it’s not the ones who care least about and get judged less on their looks — no! Women’s bodies are irreversibly stretched, stamped, enlarged and shriveled in the most unseemly way in the most unseemly places.

Men should have various body parts get flabby, wrinkle up or shrink every time they father a child. That’s called e-qua-li-ty.

2) During pregnancy with my youngest daughter, I challenged my husband to a fist fight. He did not accept.

3) During my last pregnancy I became crazy jealous of another pregnant woman. She had the audacity to confide in my husband that like me she was eight weeks pregnant. When I found out, I told him plainly with officious repetition that I was the only pregnant woman he should EVER care about, and what was she doing broadcasting her pregnancy to some near-stranger anyway? The poor man had to leave the house for a while because I was so “unreasonable.”

I still think I was justified. And I would have challenged that audacious, man-stealing pregnant lady to a fist fight, but I was pooped after yelling at Matthew.

I’ll be frank; I became a real Mama Jekyll, Mrs. Hyde. And Mrs. Hyde still comes around once a month for a week or two (gets longer every time). I howl and holler, eat hamburger patties and cheddar cheese a la carte and go on the rampage…then sleep it off, asking for a report post-nap of damage done.

It’s looking really bad for menopause. I think I’ll buy a lonely mountain cabin in which to stay during my “change of life” until I’m out of the woods, hormonally speaking. Don’t want to scare the grandkids or the neighbors, after all. If PMS is any indication, it’s going to be some ride, and I’ll be real T-R-D afterwards…but civilized again.

We hope.

—   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.

Refreshingly off-key

front coverBarb Etlin has self-published a collection of humorous poetry, Antique Piano and Other Sour Notes. Click here for an interview about the book.

Patricia Wynn Brown

Brown, Patricia WynnWhen you watch “head humorician” Patricia Wynn Brown tease the audience with her Hair Theater performances or if you’ve ever experienced her special wit at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, you know this woman is flat-out funny. She’s the author of two books, Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession, and a three-time winner of the James Thurber Summer Writing Contest.

Secret symbol

Angie KlinkAngie Klink‘s new book, The Deans’ Bible: Five Purdue Women and Their Quest for Equality, will be published by Purdue University Press. It’s received a resounding endorsement from Ilene Beckerman: “Angie Klink has woven the lives of these remarkable, courageous women educators into an inspiring narrative — scrupulously researched, wonderfully written. A compelling story and a joy to read.” Angie writes biographies, histories, children’s books, essays and ad copy. She received an honorable mention in the 2007 Erma Bombeck writing competition. Listen to the trailer here.

Why a mom would make a great Bond girl

Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig. I’ve been besotted by them ever since I heard them purr, “Bond. James Bond.” I’m a sucker for men with British accents. And men who look good in tuxedos.

What’s not to like? Bonds are like wild, exotic animals. Elusive, dangerous, powerful, elegant…sexy. One kiss from them and you’re sure to be swept off your feet faster than you can whisper “Shaken, not stirred.” 007 has skills.

My only issue with Bond is that none of them ever chose me to be their lithe, lovely, provocatively named Bond Girl.

Why pick me, you say? Well, I’m smart, savvy, well seasoned, and I’ve got something those ultra-slim sirens before me don’t have — Spanx. That’s right, just think of the weaponry I could hide in there. And I’ve got skills. Super Momma Skills, like eyes in the back of my head and super sonic hearing. I’m also impervious to pain — I have walked on Legos. Barefoot.

I can do all those things a young beautiful Bond girl can do, and then some. Not only can I look quite fetching in a ball gown, I can run in heels, and catch things flung at my head in midair, even while driving. (Anyone who’s had a toddler knows what I mean.)

Years of raising teenagers has made me a formidable ally. I am acutely aware when someone wants something (especially money) or is hiding something (like the truth). More importantly, I’m dangerous and mysterious. Just ask the ladies at See’s Candy. They never know what I’m going to ask for or when I’m coming in. U-huh. Dan-ger-ous.

You’re probably wondering, can this delicate creature handle a weapon? Well, you and MI6 can rest assured that from what I have been told, I am quite handy — quite handy, indeed — with a weapon. I’m not bad with a panini maker either. Oh, yes, Mr. Bond, you would be in good hands.

I also have a secret weapon. I can make him laugh. How many Bond Girls can say that? After a stressful day making the world a safer place, Mr. Bond could use a martini and some comic relief.

I might not be as young as the lovely creatures 007 is used to frolicking with, but I think our newest Bond — the ruggedly handsome Daniel Craig — is ready for a mature woman like me. We have a lot in common, you know. We’re both in our 40s, we both like martinis, we both use eye-cream. Of course, I’d have one of those naughty Bond Girl names. Just call me Experiencia. Multa Experiencia.

— Linda Wolff

Linda Wolff writes the blog Carpool Goddess where she shares her adventures from carpool to empty nest. She no longer drives carpool, but that’s our little secret. Her work has appeared on Huffington Post, Yahoo! Shine, Scary Mommy, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

“That Not Lollobrigida!”

Sunday nights meant only one thing when I was a child: a drive to Lorain, Ohio, with my mother and father, to visit my Sicilian grandmother.

Grandma Monia, my mother’s mother, was a widow who lived in the family home with the youngest of her four children, my unmarried Aunt Helen. Grandma spoke very little English; she had arrived at Ellis Island, as did so many immigrants, early in the 20th century.

An only child, I was the youngest of my cousins. By the time I came along, my grandmother was so hobbled by arthritis and osteoporosis that she was confined to the house, and walked, doubled over, with the help of a cane on wheels. Because of this, her world was small. It contained a window, though: the flickering light of the black-and-white console television that my aunt had bought with her secretarial salary.

Grandma’s two favorite television programs were broadcast on Sunday evening—the Lawrence Welk and Ed Sullivan shows. She rarely commented during these broadcasts (and, truth be told, she could not understand much of the dialogue), but we knew which guests and segments held her interest. She would smile in approval at the harmonizing Lennon Sisters, for example. She would clap with delight at Topo Gigio’s antics; she certainly knew that he was an Italian mouse, and if she couldn’t quite make out what he was saying to Ed Sullivan, she was nevertheless charmed by his sweetness, especially when Mr. Sullivan “keesed” him goodnight.

Acts that were, in her view, less wholesome (dancers gyrating to the Twist, say, or a tad too much cleavage in a female performer’s costume) would elicit a frown or a shake of her head. She might be at a loss for English, but she was still a critic.

One such evening in her living room, with my parents engaged in conversation with my aunt and me preoccupied with my Barbie doll, we were startled by a most unexpected reaction from her. Ed Sullivan was announcing his guests for the evening, and one name filled her with excitement.

“Lollobrigida! Lollobrigida gonna be on!” she exclaimed.

Now you have to understand something about my grandmother. Italy, and all things Italian, reigned supreme in her estimation, and were surpassed only by the Pope, who was, in those days, Italian, too. All of the food that she prepared was Italian, including the bread that she baked twice each week, despite her arthritis; she regularly mailed dollar bills to an Italian orphanage; she loved Perry Como.  She was so biased in favor of her language that she stubbornly refused to learn English, even when her children would beg her: “Ma, please. In English! Say it in English!”

The thought, then, of my grandmother welcoming into her living room the great Gina Lollobrigida, an actress who had brought pride and acclaim to Italy (despite her frequent décolletage, which, for some reason, my grandmother conveniently overlooked), was beyond thrilling. If there had been time, she would have asked Aunt Helen to place an overseas call to the relatives in Palermo, so that she could inform them of the great thing about to happen in America.

So focused were we on Grandma and her reaction that we hardly paid attention to what the estimable host was saying about his guest. We were now, with her, poised for the advent of the glamorous Lollobrigida.

The moment my grandmother had been waiting for had arrived. Ed Sullivan stepped to the microphone and announced:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome my next guest with a warm round of applause—the exciting star of Sea Hunt, Lloyd Bridges.”

And out walked a man in a scuba suit, legs splayed, flippers flapping across the stage.

My grandmother, crestfallen and confused, could only exclaim:

That not Lollobrigida!”

— Marci Rich

Marci Rich blogs at The Midlife Second Wife and The Huffington Post. She won a BlogHer Voices of the Year award in 2012, the same year The Midlife Second Wife was named one of the top seven blogs for women 50-plus by The Huffington Post. This essay was one of five winners on a Facebook contest sponsored by Marlo Thomas. Read about that here.

Playing the dating game

Once upon a time, back when only the top half of Elvis was allowed on TV, there was no, no Christian Mingle, and no “Online” didn’t exist, let alone online dating sites to meet prospective marriage material. We selected our potential mates based on whatever was available, usually while still in high school.

We often met the person with whom we’d spend the rest of our lives when a classmate said, “So and So likes you.” After a few years of dating So and So, we’d marry and live happily ever after — or maybe not.

I became a “maybe not” when my marriage of a couple of decades ended. I started dating again a few years after Elvis, both top and bottom halves, went to that Big Graceland in the Sky. Even though society was much looser, there was still no easy way to meet your next mate. “Online” was  barely part of the vernacular. Still, 41 percent of the population was divorced, so there had to be others on the singles scene, and perhaps 15 percent of those were not deranged. Unfortunately, the primary way to meet them was at singles events, events that included drinking and dancing.

I’d never been much of a drinker, and I danced like I was swatting insects. Nevertheless, during my first bar/dance singles evening, I ordered tequila. “Hi there!” I said to the guy on the barstool next to me. “Wanna dance, big guy?”

“Sure thing, pretty lady,” he said. “I’m Elmer, as in Fudd.” He climbed off the stool. His head came up to my chest. When we began to dance, I flailed like a lunatic. Elmer shouted up at me, “You can’t dance.”

I ran to a pay phone and called my ex. “Take me back,” I pleaded.

It took me a while to visit the dance/bar scene again, but the next time I slowly sipped wine, making for a more sophisticated version of myself, which was hard while sobbing. Still, a man tapped me on the shoulder. “Want to dance?” he asked.

“You look familiar,” I told him.

“I’m your veterinarian,” he said.

I stepped on his feet as we swayed, and had no idea what to say. Finally I whispered in his ear, “My dog has diarrhea.”

“Nice to see you, Mrs. H.,” he said, as he backed away. “I hope Wiggles’ stool gets better.”

The next time I ventured out, I didn’t drink at all. In spite of my former disasters, I felt more confident, and was ready when a cuddly looking guy sat next to me. He didn’t drink either, and said he wasn’t much of a dancer. Those two things were potential mate material! Afterward, we went out for coffee. “Where do you live?” I asked, as we sipped our brews.

“Right now, I live in an alcohol rehab facility across the street. As soon as I’m through with the program, I can go back to my wife and kids.”

There were more disasters. I even dated some. One gave me a book of duck stamps for my birthday; another sent a replacement when he was supposed to take me out; another drew smiley faces on restaurant checks.

Not one to give up, I went to more singles dances. One night a cute guy told me I was a good dancer! I figured anyone who thought that would put up with anything. I married him.

We’re living happily ever after. He won’t, however, take me dancing.

— Judi Veoukas

Judi Veoukas is a humor columnist for two weekly newspapers in the Chicago area, the Lake County Journal and the Gurnee Journal and has been published in Funny Times. Her columns have won first place twice as well as second place in the Illinois Press Association contest.

Reflections of Erma