The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

How to survive marriage (with 140 percent divorce rate)

Someone once told me when I was seven months pregnant with the second set of twins, “Did you know that the divorce rate for couples with multiples is 70%?”

Um, no. But thanks for letting me know — so basically my chance for divorce then is 140%? Ok…

Listen, marriage is work — it is hard fricken’ work. And if you are thinking to yourself, “What? No it’s not, I love being married!”” then you are a newlywed. Sit down and enjoy the ride right now because it gets worse, much, much worse. Like, take your little problems now, my newlywed friend, and multiply them by 100 and that is where you are gonna be soon enough.

I am not going to say that I hate being married. I don’t hate being married. Would I ever get married again? #Doubtful

Here is the thing: Kevin is my best friend and I am his. I love him and he loves me — but right now, right now in this moment of our lives — I feel, as I am sure he does, like we are running a small business and our employees are four little kids and two dogs along with loads of dirty laundry, growing grass and a house that constantly smells like pee. The floors are disgusting everything is dusty and I feel like I am being buried alive with toy — toys everywhere. And piss. Did I mention our house, van and myself smell like pee all the time?

I sometimes let this all get to me. I feel like I am never gonna get ahead with all of the chores. Am I playing with my kids enough and am I making an effort to have a date night with the hubs and did I get my run in and my cooking and, oh, crap we are out of milk!

It takes a toll trying to stay ahead of it all. I feel like I am constantly failing some days, but back to the marriage. So, how do you keep your marriage going with all this chaos?

My advice: Don’t stress about it so much.

If you have a good partner, one who loves you and knows you, then he will know that this is just a season in your lives and in your marriage. He knows that before kids you were in love, and there was a reason for the love you felt. It is still there, but right now it is on the back burner.

Yes, sometimes you make time for each other with date nights, weekend getaways. It’s all good — and a good thing to do — but if you don’t have that luxury, it’s ok. Some of us don’t have anyone to help us with our kids, which makes it even harder to get away together and spend time alone.

But one day, one day soon, you will be able to do all of the things you used to do together alone. So, if right now you can’t because it’s just too hard to line up a babysitter, find something to do on a tight budget, decide who is going to be the sober driver and then, when you finally get to where you are going, all you talk about is baby Tommy’s first tooth you found today or the fact that everyone pooped on the potty and wiped their own butts, it’s ok. It’s totally fine.

We are there, and if you are not there now, you will be. If you are past this, you know what I am saying — don’t judge yourself, don’t judge your marriage. We are all different and our marriages are unique. That is what makes us and our marriages work.

It might seem like I have all my ducks in a row and my marriage and kids are all happy all the time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have just as many problems in this house as you do in yours, maybe more. This is the life, though. Don’t be so hard on yourself or your partner.

One day soon you will have your groove back, and it’s going to be better than it was before. I know it.

— Adelei Graffin

Addie Graffin is a stay-at-home mom of TWO SETS OF TWINS, ages 3 and 1, and two fur babies. A licensed hairdresser and certified group fitness instructor, she blogs about health, fitness, food, mommyhood and more.

Aunt Lulabelle

Aunt Lulabelle died last week. FINALLY! At ease, at ease. Just kidding.

The outspoken, adorable dowager would have bellowed a Phyllis Diller cackle at that tired old joke. She gave up the ghost at age 101. A fitting exit number: rumor has it her last words were, “I always did like palindromes.”

Confirmed as the family funny lady, she often engaged in outrageous behavior solely to make people laugh. I’m reminded of the time a few years back when I knocked on her door at 8 a.m. We had planned to attend a brunch.

“Who’s abusing my door? she yelled.

“Your loving, hunky nephew. Are ya ready to go bungee-jumping?”

“Very funny. Come in, you middle-aged brat, and try not to make loud noises.”

The nonagenarian was lying on the couch in a flaming red evening gown, eyes closed, sporting what she affectionately referred to as her Liza Minnelli eyelashes.

Lulabelle had long requested that she be buried wearing that very same red dress and those Liza lashes. Plus: “Please secretly spray me with some Chantilly perfume. I want to leave the world looking and smelling bee-yoo-tee-ful. And while you’re looking and smelling at the dead lady in red, please smile. Don’t cry. Dance.”

But this particular morning, she gave out a weak grunt as I stood over the couch, peering down.

I snorted: “Oh, look at this pitiful sight! Is this a dress rehearsal for your funeral? Just to get a rise out of me?”

“No, honey,” she wailed. “I just had one too many last night.”

“Well, for God’s sake, open your eyes when you talk.”

“What do ya want me to do? Bleed to death?”

“Deception, deception,” I said. “What you actually drink wouldn’t fill a thimble, you faker. You’re always in bed by 10. You certainly did not come sauntering through your threshold at 4 a.m. all dolled up and then stagger over to the couch and pass out, as you would like me to believe. I know you, and I’ll bet it hasn’t been 20 minutes since you snuggled into that evening gown, slapped on some makeup and snapped on your Liza lashes.”

She opened her blood-free eyes, glared at me and said, “Tell me, you overgrown brat, why do you always find my scandalous claims so hard to believe? Humph! You’re forgetting the magic finger incident?”

Oh, silly me, that’s right. That was the day she walked backwards and “flipped a friendly bird.” How could I forget? I was a teenager, dutifully escorting Aunt Lulabelle across a busy street. She was recovering from an appendectomy, so we were walking rather slowly.

Suddenly, a carload of teenagers came screeching down the street and stopped on a dime directly in front of us. My heart jumped into my throat.

For a moment, Auntie calmly continued crossing the street. Abruptly, she stopped. Then slowly creeped backward until she stood directly in front of the car. With tongue in cheek, she defiantly extended her middle finger as high as it would go. The kids became hysterical with laughter. I pretended to be mortified.

Now, decades later, on the night of her wake, Aunt Lulabelle lay garishly decked out. Dead in red, with her Liza lashes attached. Serene, fur sure. But she lacked one final touch. Her Chantilly perfume.

During a private moment, I hurriedly squirted some Chantilly on either side of her head, above the ears. I guess I got carried away and squirted too much because, to my horror, the perfume had landed in a puddle inside the ear canals located directly above her earlobes. Though I freaked out, Lulabelle would have laughed this off a wardrobe malfunction. Then she’d have probably joked about putting real fun into the word “malfunction.”

Feeling like the male counterpart to Lucy Ricardo, I frantically grabbed my hanky and dabbed the perfume out of her earlobes. Whew!

But later, as people filed past her body, I heard someone gasp. Yow! One of her eyelashes had fallen onto her cheek. Like a final wink.

So, as people filed by, they weren’t mourning. They were shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders and smiling. I could almost hear Aunt Lulabelle bellowing one of her Phyllis Diller cackles. FINALLY!  Something had truly put a little fun into a funeral.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website,

Human Race in Erma’s hometown to stage ‘At Wit’s End’ in spring 2018

The Human Race Theatre Company will stage a special spring 2018 production of Allison Engel and Margaret Engel’s Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End in the 54-seat performance space at its Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center.

Dayton’s own Erma Bombeck takes center stage in this touching one-woman comedy titled after her long-running newspaper column and directed by Heather N. Powell. Human Race Resident Artist Jennifer Joplin stars as the literary icon whose candid commentary on life as a woman, spouse and mother made her the champion of suburban housewives everywhere and her newspaper columns a mainstay on kitchen refrigerators for more than 30 years. Full of personal anecdotes and sprinkled with plenty of Bombeck’s famous one-liners, it’s a charming biography that proves “if you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

“I’m thrilled this funny and poignant play is coming to Dayton, Erma’s hometown,” said Teri Rizvi, founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. “Her wit and wisdom have stood the test of time — and remind us that the foibles of family life will always make us laugh.”

Special preview performances of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End for the Bombeck Writers’ Workshop are Thursday, April 19 – Sunday, April 22. The public preview performance is Thursday, April 26. Opening night is Friday, April 27.

Director Powell helmed HRTC’s 2015 production of Steel Magnolias at the Loft Theatre, as well as the company’s touring productions of Change and A Dickens of a Time. Joplin is a Wright State University graduate who has appeared in dozens of productions at the Human Race Theatre Company and throughout Cincinnati.

Performance and special event information

Tickets for the April 26 – May 13 performances of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End are currently only available to 2017-2018 Eichelberger Loft Season subscribers and will go on sale to the general public for $25 starting November 21. Seating is general admission.

All performances are in The Human Race’s Caryl D. Philips Creativity Center, located at 116 North Jefferson Street, 2nd floor, in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Show times for Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End are 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

More information on Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End is available at

A butterfly’s visit

A week after my mom passed, I was driving to my gift store, Anne’s House of Angels, when I asked her for a sign that she had made it to Heaven. I felt a hand rest on my cheek, and I smiled and said: “What the heck was that, Mom?”

Then I wondered if it had really happened. I asked, “Mom, can you send me a real sign?” As I turned the corner, my car was instantly engulfed in little white butterflies. It was a butterfly blizzard! I cried, and I laughed. I could almost hear her giggling and saying, “Anne, did you get that sign you asked for? Was that one real enough for you?”

Ever since that day, when I think of my mom, a little white butterfly appears. At my gift store, it became a tradition that if anyone spotted a white butterfly in the rose bushes out front, they would run in and tell me, “Anne, your mom’s out front again!” I loved that sisterhood, and the total belief in her sign.

My mom’s sign as a little white butterfly isn’t surprising. She wasn’t a flashy woman; she wouldn’t need to be a fancy, multi-colored monarch. She wouldn’t want big, ostentatious wings. Small, classic, delicate wings were just her style. She lived her life with simple pleasures, and now she continues to bless my life in the same fashion.

* * * * *

When my son finished high school, I was distraught that my mom couldn’t be with us to attend the graduation ceremony. It was the first big family celebration since she passed. I sat down in the rocking chair on my front porch, in tears.

Just then a little butterfly landed in my hanging basket. It bounced to the next one and finally, onto my chair. I sniffled and said: “Hi, Mom. I’m really missing you today.”

When it was time to go, my family walked to the car, and the white butterfly came along, dancing around each one of us. My daughters said in unison, “Nan’s here!” And she was there, circling the car. She flitted in front of the windshield to be sure we all noticed her.

My husband asked, “Did you really think she’d miss her grandson’s graduation?”

Of course, I didn’t.

* * * * *

She continued her visits. At the rehearsal for my son’s garden wedding, my husband and I sat in the front row. Times like that always made me miss both of my parents. I was taking a sentimental journey in my mind when a small white butterfly arrived. She danced between the future bride and groom as they practiced their vows. She lingered, watching from a branch. I like to think she was sprinkling them with blessings for their life together.

She would never miss her grandson’s wedding.

* * * * *

These small visits from my mother remind me that I am never alone. She is still very near. Just because I can’t hug her, it doesn’t mean she isn’t there. I still talk to her everyday.

As I wrote this, a small, white butterfly was perched on my windowsill.

I’ve collected 60 stories, many from Erma conference gals, that tell of a message they received from someone in Heaven. The book will be released in September.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. Her latest book, Angel Bumps, will be published by Mill House Publishing in fall 2017. She blogs at

My wife is ok with ‘the other woman’

Another woman moved in with us this past Christmas, and my wife is OK with it.

The good news is she lives in the kitchen. The bad news is she doesn’t cook.

But she does help us with the grocery list. She also tells jokes, gives us the weather forecast and plays almost any song under the sun. Instantly.

Her name is Alexa, and she lives inside an Amazon Echo speaker. And, unlike most women, she only speaks when spoken to. Just ask her to set alarms and timers, check traffic, your calendar, to-do or shopping lists and more. And she just keeps getting smarter. She stays current automatically through the “cloud,” continually learning new functionality and skills.

I’ve been accused of having my head in the clouds, too. But my clouds are real. You know, the kind that produce rain and snow. Alexa’s cloud is somewhere out there in cyberspace. It never rains on her parade. (“Beam me up, Scottie.”) This artificial intelligence is beyond my comprehension. Alexa can spit out in seconds what used to take hours to dig out from encyclopedias.

If you remember encyclopedias, you probably remember typewriters, TV sets with tubes, Ipana toothpaste, Halo shampoo, Speedy Alka Seltzer, Slinky, Chinese Checkers, Dick Nixon, Dick and Jane, Peter Lawford and Peter Rabbit.

I didn’t become “high-tech” until the early ’90s when I bought my first computer. It was a Mac Plus. And it cost over $2,000 — used! Now that I’ve come up to an iPad, Mac G-4, Amazon Echo and an iPhone 6, I can say, “You’ve come a long way baby, to get where you got to today.”(Virginia Slims jingle, 1968). That was a long time ago.

But I bet Alexa remembers what was going on back then. So I think I’ll ask her. Me: “Alexa, who was vice president of the United States in 1968?” Alexa: “In 1968 the U.S. vice president was Hubert Humphrey.”

OK. Let’s lighten it up a bit. Me: “Alexa, tell me a joke. Alexa: “What does a skeleton eat at a restaurant? Spare ribs.” Me: “Alexa, tell me another joke” Alexa: “Two thieves stole a calendar. They both got six months.”

Oh well, now I’m not the only person in the Reid household who tells corny jokes!

— Raymond Reid

Raymond Reid is a national award-winning humor columnist from Kernersville, North Carolina. He can be contacted at

My husband’s girlfriend is a b****

They do it right under my nose.

He kisses her and looks back to see if I’m there. He talks baby talk to her. He goes on and on about how adorable she is, how soft she is, even how great her breath smells. She lies on her back at his feet when he arrives home from work, waiting for him to massage her — the slut. She canoodles with my man on our matrimonial bed, all the while mocking me with her big brown eyes.

My husband is having an affair with a real b****. Well, she’s mine, too — our dog, Curley. Curley the bichon frise. An embarrassing little white dog for my big manly-man husband. He insists that a bichon is not a feminine dog; more like a sturdy poodle. Whatever. My big hairy man becomes jelly at the sight of this living, breathing stuffed animal.

I wouldn’t mind so much except that he used to do all that cooing and snuggling with me. As our love grew more “mature,” we lost some of the cute repartee and physicality that defined our early relationship. Now the baby talk, hand holding and nose rubbing is reserved for Curley. I can’t keep up with his crazy nicknames for her: Shoosy, Pookie, Wookie. He used to snuggle with me to fall asleep. Now he can’t fall asleep without nuzzling with the dog for at least an hour before bedtime.

To add insult to injury, the dog thinks she’s in charge. Apparently bichons were first bred to run with princesses at Versailles. This one actually thinks she is a princess at Versailles. We have been told that Curley has some possessive-aggressive issues. Tell me about it. When I try to pull her from my husband’s embraces to put her in her crate at the end of the day, she tries to bite me. Growls and bears her teeth.

I guess she’s my husband’s trophy wife — except I’m still alive, taking up room in the bed. My husband tells me that Curley’s love is pure love, while my love for him comes with a to-do list attached. For me, the dog is just another thing to do on my to-do list.

I should have known my husband had doggie co-dependency issues when we got our first dog, Harpo, also a bichon. Harpo was our starter child — the dog we bought to prove that we could care for another living being before conceiving a child. We treated this animal like a baby. We took Harpo to the vet with every sniffle, cut and scrape. When we had our actual baby, we worried about how our first “baby” would react. We brought home used blankets from the hospital so Harpo could get used to the scent of the interloper, who just happened to be our son.

We worried for nothing. They got along famously, Harpo and our boy (though we did find it odd that, when we took family walks, people would stop us to say how cute our dog was but would say nothing about our beautiful baby).

My husband even brought the dog to work with him, and everyone in the office said he was a lot nicer when Harpo was around. He was convinced the dog was good for business.

While my husband continued to equate Harpo to our children, I became acutely aware that this was, after all, a dog. Just one more responsibility in between breast-feeding and diaper-changing.

Then Harpo got sick. When the vet told us that we could do nothing for him except make him comfortable, I took to feeding him by the bottle and spoon-feeding him his medicine. I remember asking my Dad how were we going to tell the kids about Harpo’s impending death. My father advised me gently, “You’ll think of something.”

Dad thought of something. He died suddenly, two weeks before Harpo had to be put to sleep. I actually wondered if it was providence softening the blow: My kids didn’t know who to cry about, Harpo or their Pop Pop?

I decided that our dog days were over and we could move on with our lives. But everyone was moping around the house. My husband complained the house felt empty — as if two kids, a nanny and the two of us weren’t enough.

So I sought out the names of breeders of bichons. I kept saying this dog wouldn’t be a replacement for the beloved Harpo but another bundle of furry joy to fulfill our lives as only man’s best friend can.

Little did I know that this new bundle of joy would replace not Harpo but me.

We sent her to doggie boot camp when she was old enough. The trainer told us, “Wow, your dog is really a little diva.” I should have known; we got her from New Jersey, and she was definitely a Jersey Girl. No one told her there was room for only one diva in our house.

The trainer explained that dog training is based on the concept of the pack and that Curley needed to learn that we were the top dogs in the house. To achieve this, we needed to train her for about an hour a day. Yeah right.

The trainer also told us that we should never let her sit on the furniture and definitely not on top of us, which would only cement her ascendancy as top dog. So what does my husband do? He lets her sit on top of his big bald head. Now, her favorite spot is on top of the couch cushions so she can tease me at eye level. To counteract this and teach her who’s boss, I’m supposed to straddle my legs on top of this dog and stand there for three minutes. Somehow I don’t find the time.

While I believe I maintain myself with the various necessary beauty treatments for a woman my age, I’m certain this princess dog gets more spa treatments than I do. I get my toenails painted and immediately my husband glares at my feet. “Oh, I see what you did today,” he complains. The dog gets groomed and he lights up: “Doesn’t she look cute, my little Baby Cakes?!”

Apparently my husband is not the only doggie co-dependent around. A friend actually purchased a second dog so that her first dog wouldn’t be lonely. Did she not remember how children react to being told they now have a sibling in the house? My friend’s dog is so distraught about the new puppy that he had to be put on doggie Prozac to deal with the depression. (If only I could have taken Prozac because of how I felt about my siblings; the years of therapy I could have saved.) Medicated now, my friend’s dog pants from dry mouth and has put on weight. But he is no longer “depressed.”

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law got their dog the year their eldest son, Robert, went to college. They named the dog Robert Jr. (“RJ”) and openly said he was a replacement for Robert. Robert “Sr.” is going to need Prozac when he figures out his new sibling is a dog.

Another friend actually kisses his dog on the mouth. He claims it’s cleaner than human mouths. And then there’s my friend whose husband insists on sleeping with their dogs in their already too-small bed. The horses — I mean dogs — are a 150-pound Newfoundland and an 80-pound Golden Retriever. By themselves they take up more than half the bed. My friend, who is 98 pounds soaking wet, has to scrunch up on one-quarter of the mattress to make room for her 6-foot, 200-pound husband and his 230 pounds of living pillows. I asked her why she doesn’t kick the dogs out of bed. She said if it came down to the dogs or her, she’s pretty sure she’d have to sleep elsewhere.

Now I am not immune to the charms of our little dog Curley. She does drive me crazy jumping and barking relentlessly whenever a leaf falls outside the house or the phone rings. But she can be adorable, and she’s good with our kids. She loves to lie by my side while I’m reading. And I love taking her for walks.

But she thinks everyone who comes to the house is there to see her. We have to stop whatever we’re doing while Curley lies down on the ground and is cooed at by every guest or delivery person at the door.

Enough is enough. I‘ve set some ground rules on how she and my husband conduct their very public affair. Curley cannot stay in our bed all night; she goes in the crate when I go to sleep. (Of course I know my husband cheats when I’m away from home). He is only allowed to use one extra nickname beyond her actual name. Baby talk is not allowed in my presence. Same with French kissing. And she doesn’t get to wear my diamonds if I die before her. The little gold digger.

 Pam Sherman 

Pam Sherman, the wit behind Gannett’s “The Suburban Outlaw” column, is an actress, playwright and recovering lawyer living in Pittsford with her husband, two children and, of course, Curley. She will star in the one-woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2018, at the Geva Theatre in Rochester.

Glazing out the window

When we bought our second old house 11 years ago, it needed some serious TLC.

The least of our problems was the broken window glass in the basement stairwell door, which I “temporarily” fixed with blue painters tape. Last week, I decided to do the job right.

I’d done a lot of old-house renovations over 30+ years. Replacing a window would be no biggie, I thought.


Here’s how it went:

Day 1 

Hour 1: I start to remove the old glaze. How hard could it be? Answer: Like chipping away concrete with a toothpick.

Hour 2: I watch some DIY YouTube videos. Lacking the special products and tools shown, I continue to chip away the concrete.

Day 2

Hours 3-5: Chip, chip.

Day 3

Hour 6: The glaze is gone, as is my enthusiasm. Later that evening, I say to my husband, Michael, “I wish I had never started this project.”  He replies, “I wish you never did, either.”

Day 4

Hour 7: I watch YouTube on removing broken window glass. How hard could it be? Answer: Never ask that question.

I put on goggles and work gloves, and begin to wiggle the broken fragment out of the bottom corner. I realize that if the rest of the glass falls out, it will drop on my bare arm. I stop, look at my arm affectionately and go get a heavy old winter coat.

The broken piece comes out easily. Hah! How hard can the rest of it be? Answer: When will you learn?

I follow a YouTube suggestion to cover the remaining glass with duct tape. Then I tap the glass with a hammer to break it into small, easily removable pieces, just like the first piece. I tap harder. I stand at arm’s length and bangBang again and again.

It occurs to me that the duct tape is doing its job of preventing breakage. So I pull my coat over my glove, turn away, scrunch up my eyes, and THWACK!  The glass gives way, crashing into the space between the interior and exterior doors.


Hour 8: After cleaning up the mess, I measure the window opening to within a 16th of an inch. Michael would be so proud. I head to the hardware store for new glass, and a young guy puts it in my car. At home, I put on my winter coat to carry it inside.

Hour 9: I set out some glazing points (metal slivers you push into the wood frame to secure the glass) and gingerly lift the arm-amputator into the opening.

It’s too small. Shit. But only barely, so I proceed.

Holding the glass in place with one gloved hand, I reach for the points and drop them on the floor. I’m afraid to bend over, putting my head in guillotine position, but I’m more afraid to remove the glass. I have visions of Michael coming home from work to find me standing in a puddle of pee, hand pressed against the window. I choose to stretch down for the points and rise triumphant, head intact.

When I finish setting the points, it’s clear the glass is indeed too small. That night, I reluctantly tell Michael I screwed up the measurement, but he’s got a trick to make it work. And it does.

Day 5

Hour 10: I watch YouTube on applying glaze. How hard… oh, never mind. Locating two containers of glaze in the basement, I open them to find they’re hard as my hammer. Shit.

Back at the hardware store, an associate hands me a can of window glaze. “Good luck with that,” he says with a slight smirk. His expression suggests he’ll have a chuckle later, thinking of me glazing a window.

Hah! You don’t know me, I think as I walk out.

Hour 11: I attempt to apply the glaze. Check YouTube. Try glazing again. Go back to YouTube. I must have missed some details. Try again. Admit defeat. Sh**.

Hour 12: That night Michael shows me how to apply the glaze and I finish the job.


Day 6

I hang ivory-colored blinds on the inside of the door. The stairwell glows, as do I. When I finish any house project, I spend some time sitting with it, taking it in, appreciating my handiwork. Perched on the steps, I reflect on the simple adventures of my well nested life.

Glazing out the window, I realize it’s not so hard after all.

(Michael wants me to add that this adventure of mine has redeemed him from a former post.  I told him he’s still not getting out of a trip to the fabric store some day.)

— Karen DeBonis

Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (aka avoiding housework), meditating (aka napping) and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (aka gardening). She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.

Grocery shopping with kids:
A tale of two ladies

The other day, I took my two boys grocery shopping at Aldi. The second we got in the car, R announced, “I don’t want to go to Aldi!”

“Sorry, Bud,” I said. “We have to.”

“Nooooo!” he wailed from the back seat. I simply drove.

When we arrived at Aldi, I grabbed my purse and my shopping bags, pulled the baby from his car seat, and stood by the open van door waiting on R. “Come on, Buddy. Let’s go.”

“I’m not going!”

“You have to,” I said.

“No I don’t!”

“Fine. Come on in when you’re ready.” A power struggle with a 5-year-old isn’t really my thing, so I walked off toward the store. And just like I knew he would, R followed me. (At a distance. He had to save face, obvs.)

After I got to the front of the store and put my quarter in the little shopping cart slot, I dumped all of my stuff in (don’t worry, not the baby. I only drop him on accident.) I peaked over my shoulder, and there was R, pretending he wasn’t with me.

He was just hangin.’ He was gonna meet up with his peeps. Chill. Maybe post a snapchat with him and the quarter cart. Aldi is tope.

Since I know my son, I also knew that there was no way he closed the van door behind him. But lucky me, I have a key fab that will close it from a distance, so I pushed the baby and the cart over to a spot where I could get a clear shot to my van. As I stood there clicking the door button, this lady came walking toward me, looking bewildered and concerned.

“Is that your son?” she said, pointing at R.

For the love of doughnuts, how many people are going to ask me that? Yes, I pushed his enormous head out of my hoo ha, so he damn well better be mine.

“Yes,” I said.

“And is *that* your son?” she said, pointing at baby G, who looked like he might have been contemplating a poop.

“Yes,” I said. And thank you for playing Guess Whose Son Does Some Random Lady Have in Her Shopping Cart. You’ve won the rare opportunity to wipe his butt in the bathroom with no changing table. (Be careful, he might ask you to blow on his butthole.)

The parking lot lady seemed unsure where to begin. After twitching and shaking for a minute, she directed her consternation at R. (Of course. Poor kid.) “He just walked through the parking lot!”

Isn’t that how most people get from a car to a store? Maybe she’s learned how to float. I wish she would teach me.

“OK,” I said.

She put her hands on her hips and pecked her head at me like a chicken. “He was walking in the parking lot!”

“Yes, I know that,” I said.

She shook her head, clearly flustered. I obviously wasn’t getting her subtle attempt to disguise her superiority as concern for my son’s safety. Suddenly, she had an idea for how to really dissuade me from ever allowing my son to walk in a parking lot again. “And did you know,” she said, “that he left your van door open?”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “That’s why I’m standing here. I’m trying to close it with the key fab but I can’t really see it.”

“No, no,” she said. “I closed your door.” She pointed at her own chest. The chest of a brave, parking-lot-floating, van-door-closing patriot.

“OK. Thanks for closing my door,” I said.

She shook her head and flung her hand at me. I was beyond help. She couldn’t get through to me with her subtlety and innuendos. She’d have to try straightforward criticism. “You need to be careful. There are cars in the parking lot.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m aware of the parking lot situation. Have a nice day.”

Jeezy peezy! She wasn’t quite fire ant lady, but I do have a bit of advice for her.

Fortunately, a few minutes later, I met another lady who restored my faith in grocery store ladies.

Following our encounter with the parking lot police, R still wasn’t ready to admit that he was shopping with me. I told him to come inside. He told me no. I said “fine” and walked in anyway. It’s a little dance we do.

As we walked through the automatic doors, baby G asked me repeatedly if his brother was coming. “Don’t worry, he’s coming. He just doesn’t want us to know he’s coming,” I said.

Sure enough, as soon as I walked through the first set of doors, there was R, standing right outside them. Then I walked through the next set of doors, beyond the little vestibule, so I was actually inside the store now. I pretended to consider buying whatever food it was that Aldi had on display just inside the door. R walked into the vestibule and pretended to consider his shoes.

As I stood there, reading the back of whatever product I had no intention of buying, another lady walked into Aldi. This one looked at R, then looked at me, and burst out laughing. “Who’s going to win?” she said.

I chuckled. “I don’t know. We’re both pretty stubborn.”

She sighed. “Ah, I’m a kindergarten teacher. This is making me miss my kids.”

Really? I could loan you a 5-year-old for the day.

The moral of this story is, if you see another mom struggling to get her child under control, who just wants to get her grocery shopping done without a tantrum, and she’s maybe trying a method you wouldn’t use yourself, don’t be like my first, judgmental and obnoxious parking lot floater. Don’t pile on more stress to a mom who’s already having a rough day. Come on, people. Just don’t be a jerk. And if possible, say something kind to the mom. You might help ease her frustration a little, like the second lady did for me.

Besides, nobody has seen more 5-year-olds than a kindergarten teacher, so she must be right. Right?

— Nicole Roder

Nicole Roder lives in Maryland with her husband, four children and one spastic fur baby. She spends her mornings wiping noses, bottoms and breadcrumbs, slapping together pb&j sandwiches, projecting murderous thoughts toward piles of laundry and shouting, “Where are your shoes?! Where are your shoes?! We’re already 10 minutes late! Find your shoes and get in the car!” She has a Ph.D. in snark and a master’s degree in social work. Fortunately, she’s only paying off loans on one of those degrees. Her work has been featured on Red Tricycle and Thought Catalog, and she blogs regularly at

Reflections of Erma