The Wisdom of Erma

Erma Bombeck, I think, was the first mom-blogger. She wrote a newspaper column in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, long before blogs ever existed, and she wrote three times a week about her own ordinary life. She makes me think and she makes me laugh. I picked up a collection of her columns at the library, the other day (Thanks, Jane, for sitting near Erma), and now I want to be Erma.

So here’s some quotes I want to share, partly because I don’t think I’m the only contemporary mother who is haunted by the Ghost of Mothers Past. We all want to be June Cleaver, but better. We want to do everything that we think 1950s mothers did, and also do all the new stuff, from baby-wearing to baby-sign-language and everything else. We can exhaust ourselves, racing with ghosts. So it’s worth remembering that those ghosts weren’t always perfectly manicured or perfectly enriching their children’s lives — and they have, or at least Erma has, some things to teach us about relaxing into the imperfections of motherhood.

Here’s Erma’s wisdom:


“Motherhood isn’t just a series of contractions, it’s a state of mind. From the moment we know life is inside us, we feel a responsibility to protect and defend that human being. It’s a promise we can’t keep.” (from “Mothers Who Have Lost a Child,” May 14, 1995)


“God smiles… ‘This one is perfect. She has just enough selfishness.’

The angel gasps. ‘Selfishness? Is that a virtue?’

God nods. ‘If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she’ll never survive.'” (from “Mothers of Disabled Children,” May 11, 1980)


“I contend it’s the absence of time to herself that breaks a homemaker’s back. Some days it’s like living in the eye of a hurricane. It’s refereeing a family of differences. It’s puppeteering a houseful of personalities. It’s making more decisions in a single hour than an umpire makes in nine innings. It’s the constancy of a job that runs from one night into the next day and into that night and into the next morning.

Have you ever slipped out to the car and slumped down, only to have six beady eyes discover you and squeal, ‘We found her’? Have you ever locked yourself in the bathroom and watched entranced while a note slid under the door that read, Are the popsicles frozen yet?” (from “Lost Identity,” Sept. 18, 1965)


“Someday, when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I’ll tell them:

… I loved you enough to insist you buy a bike with your own money even though we could afford it.

I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover your friend was a creep.

… I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your bedroom, a job that would have taken me 15 minutes.

… I loved you enough to let you stumble, fall, hurt and fail.

… But, most of all, I loved you enough to say no when you hated me for it. That was the hardest part of all.”

(from “I Loved You Enough To…” January 6, 1976)


One response to “The Wisdom of Erma

  1. Tracy

    Well said, Erma! I have a few of her books in my library at school that I just couldn’t bear to weed even though my students will most likely never read them. I am going to dust them off and read them. I’ll let you know if I find any more gems!

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