As a columnist, Erma Bombeck was given the missive, “I want you to make housewives laugh.” To her editor’s delight, she succeeded not just with housewives, but with people from all different walks of life. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Bombeck let us all in on the secret that life is pretty messy and that’s ok. No one is perfect, and that often leads to some pretty hilarious stories to tell.
Bombeck was not afraid to share her day-to-day skirmishes with her kids, the school PTA, her husband, or even the household appliances. She was #relatable before it was a thing. Luckily for us, she left her words of wisdom (or warning, in some cases) in her columns and books.
“I like to imagine that after a person has read that our waters are polluted, the world is in flames, streets are crime-ridden, drugs are rampant and her horoscope predicts her sign collided with something that will reduce her to poverty, she’ll read how the dryer returns only one sock to me from every two I put in and I tell my kids ‘The other went to live with Jesus,’ and maybe smile.”
Mission accomplished, Erma.
One of the topics that Bombeck was known for was the job of raising her three children. In this book, she takes on the notion that motherhood is just something that a woman knows how to do when she decides to start a family. Instead, her take is that it’s a lifelong occupation deserving of a Masterclass.
Bombeck advocates for more training before and after starting the position and also cross-training your co-parent to step in when you aren’t fit to fulfill your duties (due to the exhaustion that comes from answering your child’s 105th “why?” question in 2 minutes or other related circumstance). She also disabuses you of the notion that there is such a thing as a perfect mother.
Erma Bombeck Quotes from Motherhood:
“Motherhood-It’s the biggest on-the-job training program in existence today.”
In reference to TV moms Florence from The Brady Bunch or Donna from The Donna Reed show: “I was one of those not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-mothers…My kids were the ones the prime-time mothers forbade their kids to play with or else they would get in trouble.”
“To be effective and to gain the respect she needs to function, a mother must have her children believe she never engaged in sex, never made a bad decision, never caused her own mother a moment’s anxiety and was never a child.”
“I have always felt that too much time has been given before the birth, which is spent on things like how to breathe in and breathe out with your husband…and not enough time given to how to mother once the baby is born.”
"'What kind of mother would'…It’s an old phrase, conceived in innocence, carried with pomposity, and born of condemnation. It is not until you become a mother that your judgement slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”
The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank
Life in the ’burbs was a rather new concept when Bombeck and her husband decided to try out living out in the “country” with their kids. It was a new frontier for them and there were many new challenges to be met, including the competition of lawn care, the perils of not being prepared for trick-or-treaters, and the unique skillset required of driving the ubiquitous motor vehicle transportation of all suburbanites in Bombeck’s time: the station wagon.
Erma Bombeck Quotes from The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank
“What’s the big deal about pulling your car into a garage if you have to exit by threading your body through an open window, hang from a lawn spreader, climb over the roof and slide down a garden hose before reaching the door. In fact, there was a garage clause in most of our accident policies that if we were folded, bent, spindled or mutilated while walking through our garage, we could not file a claim.”
On the suburban lawn: “Never in the history of the world have so many men sacrificed so much, so often at such a price, for so little. The suburban lawn not only became an obsession with the suburban husband, it became the very symbol of manhood. Not to have a lawn was like admitting you… had training wheels on your Harley-Davidson”.
“Halloween was my sixteenth favorite holiday. It rated somewhere between the April 15th tax deadline, and a New Year’s Eve without a babysitter. In the suburbs, Halloween wasn’t a holiday. It was a full scale invasion…
‘It’s 11:30’, He (her husband) said. ‘Do we dare turn off the porch light?’
‘I don’t think so.’ I said tiredly. ‘It’s too risky. The Mintons turned their lights off early last year and a group stole their garage.’”
On the suburban housewife: “My vocabulary has been reduced to five sentences which I mumble like a robot every day of my life…The responses never vary -not in ten years of child raising:
1.Close the Door
2.Don’t talk with food in your mouth
3.Check out the clothes hamper
4.I saw you playing with the dog so go wash your hands
5.You should have gone before you left home"
“‘A friend doesn’t make each minute of the day count and screw it up for the rest of us,’ said to a mom who cut the grass, baked her own bread, shoveled the driveway, grew her own herbs, made the children’s clothes, altered her husband’s suits, played the organ at church, planned the vacation, paid the bills, was on three committees, five car pools, two boards, took her garden hose in during the winter, took her ironing board down every week, stocked the freezer with sides of beef, made her own Christmas cards, voted in every election, saw her dentist twice a year, assisted in the delivery’s of her dog’s puppies, melted down her own candles, saved the anti-freeze and had a pencil by her telephone.”
If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?
In this collection, Bombeck continues her commentary on parenting and marriage. These observations are from a more experienced wife, mother and person with a vocation of her own. The anecdotes are helpful to all of those who have gotten what they wished for, but may not have read the fine print before wishing.
Erma Bombeck Quotes from If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I in the Pits?
“I wanted to boycott coffee when it went to four dollars a pound. I really did, but basically I’m weak and cannot endure pain.”
“Some say when a child can reach the clothes hamper without falling in, he is ready to assume responsibility for what he wears.”
*On calling a child the wrong name: “It used to be a good day for me when I could remember what I called them, let alone remember who they are.”
“Before a child calls his mother at work he must ask himself: (1) Will Mom drop dead when she hears this? (2) Can she find a plumber after five? (3) Will she carry out her threat to move to another city and change her name?”
“To my way of thinking, the American family started to decline when parents began to communicate with their children.”
Aunt Erma's Cope Book
When the self-help genre hit its stride, Bombeck was convinced she needed to try it. Her neighbors and friends had plenty of advice about where to start and so she gave them all a try. But the more she puts these life-changing methods into action, the more she seems to realize maybe the old Erma and her way of doing things wasn’t so bad after all.
Erma Bombeck Quotes from Aunt Erma's Cope Book
On being asked how she is feeling: “You know I don’t like to talk about me in front of myself. It’s embarrassing.”
On spicing up her sex life: “Check your husband’s driver’s license. Under SEX: Does he list a) Male or b) only during a full moon?”
On her son opening up the fridge and staring into it: “After surveying two hundred dollar’s worth of food in varying shapes and forms, he would declare loudly, ‘There’s nothing to eat.’”
On her highest priority: “For Betsy Bombeck, Andy Bombeck and Matt Bombeck…If I blow it raising them, nothing else I do will matter very much.”
This collection is the quintessential bible of Bombeck. This book contains published column pieces throughout her writing career on a variety of topics. One need only pick a page at random to visit with the humorist and get a good dose of what it truly means to survive being human. Even more endearing are the tributes included at the end from admirers, relatives and friends reminding us what a gift Bombeck’s words were and remain to this day.
Erma Bombeck Quotes from Forever, Erma
On a mother’s revenge: “I have discovered that one of the rich rewards of motherhood is casting maledictions on your children in the event they become parents. It’s a unique way of saying, 'Just wait, kid…you’re gonna get yours.'"
On being the youngest sibling: “I feel sorry for the kid. To be on the tail end of a family means anything you come up with has either been told or isn’t worth telling.” But also, “They not only know who they are and what they are, but they’ve dealt with the two things that most children fear the most: competition and loneliness.”
On the empty nest: “No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night…No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and library paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to heal. No responsibility. Only a voice crying, ‘Why don’t you grow up?’ and the silence echoing, ‘I did.’”
On how to tell your social status: “You’re rich when you own a boat—without oars.”
On those that misinterpret her intentions: “To my critics, I can only assure that there is love in every line. And remind you that he who laughs…lasts.”
On a teenager yelling “You don’t love me!”: “I loved you enough to bug you about where you were going, with whom and what time you would get home.”
On growing older: “Every time I got an eye examination and was advised that I needed stronger glasses, I’d never throw the old ones out. I’d put them in one of the rooms. Moving from room to room playing “musical eyeballs” is a romp through my life.”