Slice of Life Humour – Erma Bombeck

Swapna Narayanan

About a decade ago, I was attending the Family Day event organised at the company where I worked with my two young children (then 4 and 8 years old), boys to be more specific.  

Both of them were cute, naughty, adorable and what not – according to others, not me. For me, they were a handful and tough to handle. More so as both were quite hyperactive. I remember, at one point in their troublesome forever days, I used to be scared to take the two of them together to the local market, lest one of them wriggled away from my hand and ran off. And they were quite capable of doing that.

Coming back to the event, all my colleagues had come in with their families and we were all busy coochie cooing and drooling over babies and kids all around. Other’s kids, never their own.

During these interactions, I remarked, kids are all adorable, as long as they are not our own! While that led to peals of laughter and some glaring looks from elderly aunties and uncles, one of my colleagues asked me – have you read Erma Bombeck?

And when I said no, I had a copy of one of her books the next day at my desk at work.

The title was – If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I doing in the Pits? Lord, how it hit home! Here I was, stepping into my 30s, had ticked off all the boxes defined by the world around me – career, marriage, babies etc., yet I was not exactly feeling at the top of the world.

And that is how Erma became a part of my life. Her humour, her wit and her incisive take on everything that a woman, a mother, a home maker goes through in her day-to-day life was too appealing. And I became a life long fan.

Erma was a US based humorist and initially began with writing a newspaper column called At Wits End which was soon a rage across the country. She followed this up with many books that went on to become bestsellers – Just Wait till you have Children of Your Own, I lost Everything in Post-Natal Depression, Motherhood – the Second Oldest Profession, Family – the ties that Bind…and Gag!, The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank and so on.

I am sure the titles piqued your interest. Wait till I tell you about some of her quotes.

If you are a mommy with 8 to 10 year olds and often send your kids to school in the morning in a sparkling white uniform, and later in the day when they get back, have to search with a magnifying glass for even a tiny speck of white in the same uniform, you will surely connect with Erma who famously said – Who in their infinite wisdom decreed that Little League uniforms be white? Certainly not a mother.

Or when you dress your kids up and take them to that perfect birthday party where the decor is all white, you cannot but find a kindred soul in her when she said – All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.

And if you are mothering some teenaged kids who have all the time for Instagram, WA and chatting with their friends, you can deeply connect when Erma says – My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.

Her writings were not limited to just children and motherhood but rather encompass a larger spectrum of life and leave you with some insights that make you think and wonder how you had a kindred spirit on the other side of the world in a totally different culture than yours – Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died. Or, God created man, but I could do better, Or when your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway, and the oft happening moment in my life – How come anything you buy will go on sale next week?

Erma Bombeck’s writings are a class apart.

However, I must warn you, do read her books in the cultural context of her time – the 70s and 80s America which was a lot different from the world of today.

Yet – she gets it all right. The usual travails of motherhood, couple quarrels, grandparents’ outpour of love and concern for their grandkids that works in cross-purposes with your approach, taking vacations with troublesome twos, impulsive shopping trips, guilt of the love for eating while trying to reduce weight and what not.

And, she brought it all to us with deep take-aways, nicely garnished with layers of humour.

Oh, Erma – reading you will never make a woman, a mother, ever feel lonely. And that’s the biggest gift that you have given to this world. She passed away in 1996 and wrote a column even a week before her death.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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