Creepiest middle-of-the-night experience ever. Wake up a little before 4:00 a.m. and head to the bathroom, where gradually it dawns on me I’m hearing a man’s deep, droning voice somewhere inside my house. It’s deathly still otherwise, pitch black, everyone asleep but me.
I feel my way down the hall, then down the stairs, cold with fear but unable to resist moving toward the sound. I lean around the kitchen doorway, and there, across the open floor plan, above the living room fireplace, on a TV that was decidedly turned off before bed, is a silver-combed man, Southern and insistent, in an outdated blue suit, a deeper blue curtain drawn behind him, sitting at a desk cleared of all but a single, old-fashioned table microphone.
He’s pointing one thick, bullying finger at what seems to be me, quoting fiery scripture on accountability and thundering on about condemnation. I stare up at him, powerless and terrified, the accused before the judge, when the screen goes suddenly black, then just as suddenly back to the man, black and to the man again, as if he’s willing himself there, conjuring this court and conviction into my living room.
My eye catches movement over the sofa back — is that a head? — a child? But no, no child would dare lie in the dark here like this, alone with this harbinger of doom. Unless they were possessed…a possessed child, maybe?
Oh — no, it’s only Floyd. Thank God for Floyd, though I notice with alarm he seems just as scared as me. My brain kicks in and I begin searching for the remote, the man shouting above us then silenced, shouting then silenced. And at last, I understand.
"MOVE, Floyd!!!" I yell, shoving at him, digging through fat and fur until finally I locate the remote underneath his rear. Once the house is quiet, I start to feel sorry for him, so I go back and give him a reassuring hug, whispering that the mean man’s all gone now. He settles in, and I head back up the silent staircase, accountable to no one.
Why I give my middle-school-aged daughter a little freedom: so she and a friend can buy ugly frosted lipstick at the CVS with their own money; get yelled at by the manager of Ted’s Montana Grill for spinning around and around in the revolving door entrance like Will Ferrell in “Elf”; spend an hour filming a 2-minute music video in city street settings; notice that salespeople are rude when they’re empty-handed and nice when they’re carrying store bags; get told off by an old lady for sitting and blocking the staircase at Starbucks; and slide into the backseat at our meeting spot, smelling of sun and tic tacs and floral hand sanitizer, spilling over each other to share the tales of learning to be human.
1. The diaper goes on the baby’s bottom, forwards or backwards, but forwards is better.
2. You can buy “nighttime” diapers if you want, but your ass is getting up either way.
3. You can use one of those baby wipe warmers, but warm things near private parts make most people need to pee, and a cold retracted penis might not be a bad thing.
4. No one knows if your baby is gassy, but everyone will say, “Maybe he’s gassy!” because it’s not something they can help you with.
5. Mylicon Infant Gas Drops are made from the tears of laughter of Johnson & Johnson senior executives.
6. If your baby falls off the bed, reframe it in terms of “Free Range Parenting”.
7. You can sterilize your baby’s pacifiers, but dogs’ mouths are supposedly cleaner than humans’, so you could just thank them for finding it and pick off the larger hairs.
8. You can put “Shhh! Baby Sleeping!” signs on doors and speak in stage whispers during nap time, but only if you want to spend the next five years tiptoeing around like Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
9. You can stick your finger in a baby’s diaper to see if it’s clean, but you can only do this once.
10. You could wake the baby up to see if he’s hungry, or you could shave your dog’s fur to see if he’s cold.
11. You could twist the umbilical cord into a dried “keepsake heart” for the baby’s nursery, or you could dress in witches’ clothing and post “keep away” notices for all normal people.
We’re backing into this thing. Last night, the girls and I watched “Clueless”, this afternoon, “Emma”. By Friday, I anticipate reading Jane Austen aloud, girls needlepointing on stands by the fire, all of us leaping up, flustered, smoothing dresses and pinching cheeks and fluffing pillows, as the UPS man rings the bell unannounced.
As the ER doctor wriggled my index fingernail free of the nail bed with pliers, he asked if I worked with my right hand.
"Well, I like to write," I said.
"Eh? So what kind of things do you write? What’s your writing style?” he asked.
"Oh…I don’t know," I said, "mainly just parenting essays, sometimes funny."
"Sort of like Erma Bombeck?" he suggested.
"Um, I guess." I said.
I wanted to be prepared, should such a question ever come up again, so I jotted down some “writing style” slogans at 4:07 a.m., after being awoken by the pulsing, strobe-lit rave in the tip of my finger:
Mary Beth Holcomb: Sort of Like Erma Bombeck
Erma Bombeck, Now with 30% Less Mom Hair!
Erma Bombeck: The Martini Years
Are You There Erma Bombeck? It’s Me, Mary Beth.
Erma Bombeck if She Carried a Dull Swiss Army Knife and Didn’t Know How to Use the Tools
Erma Bombeck: Laughter is the Best Medicine (Outside of Gin and Pain Pills)
Erma Bombeck: If LIfe Gives Us 10 Fingernails, How Did I Wind Up With 9?
Erma Bombeck, Minus the Good Housekeeping with Water Glass Ring Stains
Look Again, Erma Bombeck, this knife is ENGRAVED.
Erma Bombeck With Irreverent Cussing
Erma Bombeck: Watch My Four Kids for an Hour Then Tell Me to Keep My Dominant Hand Completely Dry for a Week
Erma Bombeck: Is That a Pulpy Flesh Flap Where My Nail is Supposed to Be, or Are You Really Interested in My Kids’ Names and Ages?