Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Telling It Like It Is

Some friends have asked what made me decide to start a blog. There are some family reasons, but what drives me is a desire to share stories and anecdotes after which I can say, "Me, too! I'm not the only one that's happened to."

Also, I want to explore ideas I just haven't had time to think about. My daily schedule is as full as ever, but my daily responsibilities have lessened. After a twenty-five year hiatus, I now have some capacity for thoughts of my own. Sure, my children have struggles and growing pains, but now the struggles are mostly theirs, not mine. I agree with Erma Bombeck when she said, "I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: 'Checkout Time is 18 years.'"

Erma Bombeck was my favorite columnist. She wrote things you could relate to, saying out loud what you were unwilling to say and embarrassed even to think. She wrote about such topics as irritating relatives, messy houses, being on time, leftovers, clothing malfunctions and body breakdowns. She dispelled the notion that grownups were supposed to take life seriously all the time. Reading her column gave you comfort that your own life was normal, you weren't crazy. Or at least there were other people out there crazy like you. She died in 1996, just when my own kids were becoming teenagers and I could have related even more. Today's columnists are too often writing for constituents who just want validation for their wacked out lives and poor choices. I moved on............

To the funny pages. (Remember that expression?) I love the comics, especially the comics that tell stories. After Erma Bombeck, my favorite source of comaraderie was Lynn Johnston's "For Better or For Worse." I devotedly followed the lives of Elly and John, she a homemaker with secret dreams and he a dentist running his own practice. The characters dealt with the unpredictable world of parents, kids, friends and neighbors. I could relate to their left turns of life - especially the blessed but very unexpected bonus child.

Like Erma, Lynn Johnston was both funny and relevant. I giggled at Elly's nightgown-flapping hot flashes and John's thought balloons about his wife's wildly unpredictable temperatures. I snorted at John's denial of his growing midriff and his fling with a sports car. I identified with Elly's decision to buy and later sell a book store and John's indecision about cutting back at work. I appreciated the story line on how to work with the family your child marries into. I also enjoyed the push-back to their grown children's presumptions that Mom and Dad would always be available at a moment's notice for a room to crash in or store stuff, a loan or a place to park the grandkids.

But then Lynn Johnston changed her comic strip, ending the ongoing story and reverting to the story of twenty-five years prior, life with young children. She said it was too wearing to keep all the story lines going with the adult kids and grandkids. Rats! I still read that comic, but it's a shadow of what it used to be. I wish, instead, she had downplayed the other characters and just continued Elly and John's story. There's plenty of humor and new situations to depict using characters that have become, to put it politely, middle aged.

There are a few other comic strips that give me little doses of real life adventures - comics that mix hilarity with truth. I enjoy "Crankshaft" and "Funky Winkerbean" which have common authors and often interrelate. "Luann" is surprising in that I can take empathetic turns between the mom, with her job and goofy family, and the high school age daughter who actually has a mature way of dealing with the peer pressure and awkward moments of growing up. I don't think we're ever done with peer pressure and awkward moments.

Probably my favorite strip right now is "Zits." The main character is Jeremy, a sixteen year old boy. Each day's panel reveals the constant fallout from his interactions with parents. My boys are twenty and fourteen. The character of the relationships between Jeremy and his mom and dad are so spot-on I can't believe a guy writes the strip. Today's presentation is a perfect example:

The coffee, the ipod, the questions, the shout, the response - they are all EXACTLY like it is in my house.

But the comics only take a few minutes a day, so I looked for something else to wrap my brain around. There are thousands of choices in the blogosphere, but they seem to congregate in just a few categories - parents of young children, religious moms, home-schooling moms, current events or politics. While I've found a few blogs to read and enjoy, they are not fulfilling.

I'm ready to move past reciting the cute, sweet things my kids did yesterday. I've had four little kids and been there, done that. My boys can still be outrageously funny, but now it's usually the type of humor best shared only with the very closest family and friends, if you know what I mean. And if a son is particularly sweet, I don't want to jinx it by calling him out publicly.

I don't want to have arguments or be pushy, either. That goal pretty much eliminates current events and politics as frequent themes, although I'll bring them up occasionally. While these topics can be intensely interesting, they are thin layers on top of who we are as individuals and families and citizens.

Instead, I want to talk about our whole lives, what I've learned and what you've learned and what is left to learn. I want a place to remember or confess both the serious and silly happenings of our days, just like it's done in the funny pages. That's Life in the Fifties.

(Comments on any topic or suggestions for future topics are always welcome, and you don't even have to leave your name.)

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