Life is funny, or why I started screaming at the TV

Have I mentioned before that life is funny?  It bears mentioning again, because it is the only explanation I have for why my Mother’s Day included blood-curdling screams.

Like most of my adventures, this one started out innocently enough.  As I have mentioned 53 times already, I attended a writing conference a few weeks ago.  By chance, CBS Sunday Morning was also at the event, filming a segment for Mother’s Day about Erma and how her humor helped revolutionize the way America viewed the career of Motherhood.  Tracy Beckerman, humor columnist, blogger, conference speaker, and author of the book Rebel Without a Minivan, was on deck as a feature interview for the show.  Tracy is smart and funny, and she signed my copy of her book even though I do drive a minivan, and I once commented on her blog “Lost in Suburbia”, and we are friends on Facebook, so really I’m almost a real friendstalker,  quasi-acquaintance, so I tuned in to see her (and, truth be told) to try to catch a glimpse of my aforementioned disastrous haircut from behind, somewhere in the crowd.

The TV cameras were around every day, filming many, many hours of mingling attendees and numerous workshop sessions.  No biggie, until they popped up in a session where I stood up and shared some very personal information as part of writing exercise on our greatest fears and most embarrassing moments.*

*A lethal combination.

I felt rattled to have a camera in my face while speaking, but was reassured that with 350 attendees, many speakers and an estimated 147 hours of raw video footage, I need not give it another thought.

So, fast forward to 9:00 Mother’s Day morning, and I know the show is on but I have recorded it on the DVR so I would not interrupt the family making a fuss over me early on my day. Watching Tracy would be fun, but I knew the enthusiasm for showering me with gifts and cards would too soon come to an end, so I wanted to savor it.  Indeed, my guys gave me a wonderful day.

As the fawning masses were running out of steam later in the late afternoon, I settled in and cranked up the DVR.  The segment was a sweet piece about Erma and motherhood, with fun interviews of her kids.  It included cute little cross-stitch segment transitions of Erma quotes, such as “Insanity is hereditary — you get it from your kids.”  Fade that first cross-stitch, and there is my face.

I found this shocking.  I started screaming.  I don’t know why.  It was so not cool.  I bet Tracy did not scream at the TV.  I was on the screen for five seconds, and said one sentence.

The Little One came rushing up the basement stairs to see if I was being murdered — apparently seeing myself on TV when I don’t expect to see myself on TV makes me emit a blood-curdling type of scream.  We didn’t know that about me, but now we do, for future reference.

It is a good thing to know, because life is funny.

Why Erma?

“Why Erma?” someone asked.

Erma Bombeck was the first humor writer that I ever read.  As a kid, when I had exhausted the stack of books from the summer bookmobile, I would browse through the house for reading material.  There on the living room bookshelf, near the Reader’s Digest Condensed versions and the set of encyclopedias, stood several Erma books in various stages of dogearedness.  The paperback that stands out in my mind is “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”  I used to think the title meant something like “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, but later, as I contemplated the uncanny ability of septic tanks to either green up a lawn in no time, or kill the grass completely, the title had great depth.

Or it is entirely possible that I over-thought that book title.  I had a lot of time on my hands.

To me, the wonder of her humor is this:  I was a 10 year old kid who had never lived in a suburb.  Erma’s world of grown-up responsibilities and tedium and frustrations and joys — that was not my world.  Yet her situations were so comically real and her descriptions so universal that somehow I understood how she felt.  And I would laugh out loud.

I forgot about Erma for many years.  Then, staying in a vacation house on Marco Island, I found a bookshelf filled with an eclectic mix of titles, the kind of collection that grows from people leaving a book and taking a book as they come and go.  I spotted Erma there on the shelf and started to read, and I laughed out loud.  I watched my own kids race around and bicker and joke and I saw my family, and I smiled.

A recent comment from the wonderful writer Darrelyn Saloom sums it up for me:

…I adore Erma Bombeck. Her column and books were a housewife’s drug before anti-depressants. I never needed ‘em. I had Erma to fire up those synapses in my brain.

As I listened to writer after writer share their stories at the conference, women and men, I heard so many experiences that mirrored my own.  As children themselves, they also related to her humor.  And here I thought I was the only pre-tween who found these books funny even though the setting was on another planet.

Yet, funny or not, I must admit that Erma’s world in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio served as a cautionary tale to me as a kid.  I had no aspirations to be a Midwestern housewife, or a stay at home mom.  In fact, I spent a long time running in the opposite direction.  But, as I learned from reading Erma’s stories long ago,  life is funny.  The winding paths of the years can even land an unsuspecting girl in suburban southwestern Ohio, not 30 miles from where Erma’s septic tank was fertilizing the lawn as she raised a couple kids.  I have found myself in an unforeseen life, one I never dreamed could make me happy.

But this life does make me happy.  Thanks, Erma, for finding the funny in everyday situations, and sharing the stories.  Now I can see that being a mom can be the most noble profession of all.  Even in the ‘burbs.  Writing about it sounds good too.