Erma to the Rescue

Today the full sun isn’t drawing any lines. Sylvia’s feeling everything at once. Erma’s just arrived to help provide the guide lines. Guide lines not guidelines.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. ~Erma Bombeck


To “B” or Not to “B”

Sylvia’s been thinking about this for far too long – since summer actually. And now that the frigid temperatures have arrived along with the ice on the cove, she’s daring to dream again, especially of a warm-weather B&B. As she sits at the kitchen table with a mug of her favorite blend, a startling rap on the kitchen window brings her back to reality…

Erma: Pondering your existence again, Sylvia?

Sylvia: Oh God, no, Erma. Nothing existential about this at all.

Erma: Well, I was out front ringing the bell, but when you didn’t answer, I had a strong feeling you might be cooking something up in the kitchen. Now I realize that you were absolutely cooking something up. That coffee must be piping hot because you appear more than a a bit dewy, my friend. Dare I ask what’s on your mind?

Sylvia: Nothing. Well, that’s not true. I was just thinking about the prospect of a clean slate in a tropical locale. Promise me, Erma, no eye-rolling when I tell you what has me bemused today.

Erma: You know me, I can’t promise that, but now I’m really intrigued. Do tell, Sylvia, do tell. I’ll grab myself a mug and pour a cup.

When Sylvia met Cam little did she know that whether or not she was wearing her Spanx would be the least of her aesthetic worries. The concern that popped to the forefront quickly went from how the unbridled parts would look once they were set free of the constricting undergarment to the actual landscaping of the nether regions. Cosmopolitan, aka “Cosmo”, had long ago provided an in-depth foray into waxing and its stimulating benefits, but now Sylvia who hadn’t seen the tree through the forest in years -decades even- was curious. She thought seriously, “What would it be like to get rid of the thicket? And, if I don’t like what I see, will he?

Well, after a mentally and physically grueling appointment with her aesthetician (never mind what anyone tells you – yes, it’s painful and unpleasant, perhaps akin to how much it would smart if you were to catch the hair on your head in a Dyson vacuum cleaner; and I’m hazarding a guess and thinking for guys who haven’t manscaped in a while or ever, the pain might parallel getting kicked in the nuts with cleats), Sylvia sheepishly looks in the mirror that is handed to her. “Look, Sylvia. Prettiest pussy ever.”

Really, Sylvia? Can anything be left to the imagination at all? “To B or not to B” takes on a whole new meaning when one is staring at parts that have not been pampered and primed let alone examined by her owner in nearly three decades. Bush. Bikini. Brazilian. Bare. So, the obvious question begging to be asked (and answered) is, “Why now, Sylvia?” Much like when you deliberated over holding it in or rolling with it when faced with the Spanx dilemma, you need not agonize over something so incredibly personal. Your vagina. Your choice.

Erma, what I need to tell you and share with the other Ermas and Sylvias out there is that the process is progress. Learning to love myself, both the inner core and the outer shell, is a full-time job; and it is and should be a labor of love. There is no better time than now! It’s taken me fifty-plus years to accept myself and even give myself credit for a few things. I’ve been putting me off for a very long time. No one’s fault mind you, but now that I’ve become increasingly aware of what doesn’t bring me happiness, what doesn’t feel good, and what I don’t like, I’m all about discovering – perhaps even uncovering – that which puts a smile on my face, a spring in my step, and the ohs in “Oh, my; oh, yeah; and oh, God.”

Erma:  Who would have imagined what a woman can learn about herself from a waxing?

Sylvia: That’s just the point, Erma. You never know what you are missing until you open yourself up to new things. And by new, I just mean that everything old can feel new again. And it does. 

The benefits of waxing are so much more than not having to worry about stubble or the errant strands playing peekaboo from your bathing suit or sexy lingerie bottoms. Less is so much more in this case. Life-changing, in fact. Little did Sylvia know that the eradication of what some refer to as “vintage vag” would lead to a new lease on life. Seriously. All of you Ermas, you know a great deal and can teach us much, but trust your Sylvias when they say that if you withstand those thirty minutes of pain on the aesthetician’s table, you’ll unveil uncharted territory which just may lead to some of the greatest and most satisfying discoveries of your life.  If you’re happy visiting the same places, then that’s okay as long as you are happy; but if you are looking to be transported, you should seriously consider Option Bs.

Not that it should be the deciding factor when you decide “to B or not to B” but at the very least consider the following. Lovers and partners think that we make the decision “to b or not to b” taking into account two primary considerations: first, we may want to appreciate our natural beauty how God intended it; and second, we want to look good to ourselves and to them. Perhaps both are true. Indeed, Sylvia wanted to look good and feel good for herself and for Cam. When Sylvia met Cam, she was on the precipice of change. She was exhausted. In every way imaginable. In every way that a fifty-year old woman is when she has back-burnered herself to make everyone else’s life easier and their dreams come true. The choice to explore with Cam was uncharacteristic and unexpected; the decision to get rid of any barriers to pleasure of any kind, however, was necessary.

I have heard from a Saturday-night-filled pub of couples in the world that the difference between the Bs is much like the difference in selections on a menu. Is it appetizer or main course? Chicken or Steak? Palate cleanser in between courses or is it the bread basket that will stay on the table and be grazed upon throughout the meal?  I really don’t know. Neither did Sylvia.  Sylvia decided it wasn’t about providing a veritable smorgasbord for Cam (although his enthusiastic taste in the offerings only proved to her benefit); it was about discovering what fulfilled her and satisfied her appetite. It was about experiencing something new and exciting. Discovering what she liked instead of eliminating what she disliked. Just as some guys are only interested in the food and being full after the meal, some women – I’m venturing to say most- savor the total dining experience. For Sylvia, her choice “to B” provided her the clean slate that allowed her to enjoy, from her head to her toes, a destination that had eluded her for a very long time. It never occurred to Sylvia that the barrier to her happiness, to her finding herself, to her discovering what transported her from exhausted and people-pleasing to spontaneously sensual and satisfied would be her willingness to try something new. Sylvia’s decision “to B” was liberating and exhilarating. Inner core and outer shell, she was beginning to love it all!

Erma (pouring out the remaining coffee in her mug): Sylvia, and just think, you’ve only gotten to the Bs in the alphabet! 


Take a Moment


Sylvia Sums Up Life in a Word…or Two


Sylvia: There’s nothing that a good fuck can’t cure. Seriously. It’s one of the most honest, if not the most liberating, pathways to freedom.  

Erma: Well, I’ll take your word for it, Sylvia.  I might be a bit too old to go that route.  

Sylvia: Well, first of all, you’re never too old! But for God’s sake, Erma, I’m not talking about the act, although admittedly that can be therapeutic and invigorating, not to mention fun. I’m talking about the word. F-U-C-K. Yep, fuck. Best word ever.  

Well, well, well. There’s food for thought most certainly.  All of her life Erma has searched for the right word.  A word that is so empowering that it possesses the unparalleled ability to convey deep dark angst, utter disgust, and unbridled joy and passion, not concurrently mind you, but at just the right times when all other vocabulary escapes you.  And in one fell swoop and three old-fashioneds later, Sylvia, more frequently the student, becomes the teacher and Erma’s purveyor of the nuances and more deeply seated meanings of what Erma and her generation used to call the golden word. FUCK. Gilded by virtue of its forbidden nature– something you can do or think but never say.

Taking long, generous sips of their afternoon cocktails, Erma and Sylvia engage in what might just be the most meaningful, candid, and unexpectedly humorous conversation of their friendship.

“Here’s the thing, Erma. Fuck holds so much power because it’s multi-purpose. It’s universal. Fuck fits everywhere. In every exchange fathomable between two people, you can imagine, feel, and use fuck. It’s a noun, a verb, an adjective. It’s a word, an action, and an emotion.”  

“It’s also quite funny, Sylvia. I have to admit that just hearing you say the word over and over is titillating.  It makes me feel like a school girl. Almost a bit giddy and undoubtedly a bit naughty. Tell me more, my friend.  I have a feeling that I’m in for a real life lesson– one that may be immediately applied.”  

“Erma, all I can share with you is what I know first hand.  I never heard my mother utter the word. Goddammit. Son-of-a-bitch. Shit. Jesus Christ. Yes, all of those would come burgeoning out at full force, especially when she was agitated duly or unduly by one of her children, her husband, work, or the dog. It wasn’t until Mom’s early 50s that fuck came into play, that it became a part of her lexicon. I remember it vividly. She was making the bed, of course in a bit of a rush as she always was in her valiant and ritualistic attempts to get organized and out the door before 7am.  As clear as Sunday church bells in a small hamlet, I heard it. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck’r. Fucking fuck. Fuck. Little mother fucker.” And there it was in all its glory. Unbridled. Free-flowing. She had stubbed her toe- the bad one, the big one with the corn and the ingrown toenail- on the over-sized, maple-footed ball of the bed. And needless to say, it hurt so much that FUCK was the only word, the sole expletive that fit.  At that moment though, as Mom grabbed her toe with tears in her eyes groaning out fuck after fuck, I had an epiphany. My mother was human. Fuck rendered her mortal. The power of fuck had been unleashed.”

“Well Sylvia, that was nothing more than a gut reaction, don’t you think?” Erma suggested, almost apologizing for Mom’s foul language. “A spontaneous response to an annoyingly unfortunate event,” she added.  

“Perhaps,  Erma, but I think it revealed so much more.  I think it was a release for her. No other word in the world could have expressed her anger while providing her with such liberation and cleansing. With each fuck, each hard and exasperated fuck, came freedom.  And in all its power and glory, fuck gained instant standing and acceptance in my book because Mom had used it fiercely, passionately, and unapologetically.”

“I get it, Sylvia, but tell me, you can’t actually believe that one single word accommodates other life situations as well?  How can one word be so multi-faceted?  Give me examples–minus the obvious, of course. 

“Fuck in a nutshell is what you are looking for, Erma.  Here goes.  Disgust: When your significant other feigns concern about your well-being and then proceeds to ask if his whites are done and what’s for dinner. Are you fucking kidding me? Joy: When your grown kid texts you before his bedtime (not yours) to share a pic of his favorite diva whom he happened to sight on his way to the subway. That’s fucking awesome! Incredulity: When the person next to you on the plane puts a used tissue in the seat-back pocket. What the fuck? Anger: When you finally find the perfect parking spot at the mall, have your blinker on to properly claim it, and then an oncoming car goes around several waiting vehicles to steal the spot. Fuck you. (That one must be accompanied with a look of disdain and the appropriately inappropriate finger.) Fatigue: You come home very late, depleted of every ounce of physical and mental energy after an excruciating day, only to find that a raccoon has rummaged through your garbage barrel leaving trash everywhere including your neighbor’s driveway. I don’t have one more fuck to give today. Indifference: When there’s just no pleasing anyone. I don’t give a fuck. Fuck it! And even though you don’t want to hear about the obvious, Erma, it really has to be said. Consider it a reminder to all women that you only get what you ask for. Desire: When you are with your lover and he’s willing to do anything to see you fulfilled time and again. Fuck me. Please. So, see Erma, the word is pure gold.  It can be melted down and morphed into so many emotions.  But of all the feelings, thoughts, and deeds that it encompasses, none is greater than the other “f” word that all fucks lead to–the mother of all “f” words–freedom. Don’t you agree, Erma?”

As Erma sat swirling the remaining ice cube in her tumbler, she thought to herself, “Fuck?  Fuck, yes. Absolutely, Sylvia, freedom indeed.”













No Substitutions

Sylvia: Erma, it’s been awhile.  Come on over. I’m in the mood to whip something up in the kitchen and could use some company. 

Erma: Do you need me to pick up any ingredients on my way over? Cake mix? Slice’n Bake cookie dough? Take-Out?  

Sylvia:  Oh no, none of that, Erma.  It’s all about starting from scratch this time…and no substitutions.

Erma: Good girl, now you’re catching on.

Sylvia hung up the phone and hurriedly moved across the kitchen to get the coffee going. After all, that was the beverage of choice for these two ladies when they were about to engage in deep conversation to offset otherwise mundane midday activities.  As Sylvia reached into the cupboard to grab the canister of French roast, she hesitated. Without over thinking, she closed the cupboard door and instead picked up her pace ever so slightly as she ventured to the wine rack in the corner of the dining room and selected a red blend, one befitting their friendship, their past conversations, and the time of day: Dreaming Tree Crush. Yes, by all means, yes.  This is exactly what Sylvia and Erma would need to analyze life’s recent events and to contemplate the future with just the right amount of wisdom and whimsy.  They could only benefit by a a bit of the grape to get them through the cooking portion of the afternoon, lest they forget the actual motivation for their impromptu get-together.

Sylvia, bottle and corkscrew in hand, returned to the kitchen to retrieve the stemless wine glasses she had yet to use, and this occasion seemed more than perfect for them if she and Erma were going to be multi-tasking.  Rustling around counter-tops covered with everything from flour to eggs to spices, and an opened bottle of red of course, called for stemless, much like coffee with her friend necessitated the over-sized, earthenware mugs. Clad in her black yoga pants and a vintage college sweatshirt, Sylvia threw on an apron and used the wine key to uncork the bottle and pour herself a couple of sips (a taste-test, let’s say).  At the very instant the crimson potion touched her lips, Sylvia realized something that for some reason had never occurred to her until that moment- when you want something, you want it. And no matter what anyone tells you, including all of the well-intentioned admonitions you are offered, there is never an adequate substitute for something your palate wants, your stomach craves, or your heart desires. No substitutions. Your decisions, big and small, much like a choice between coffee and wine, are made either painstakingly or swiftly, for better or worse.  In either case, once a commitment has been made, anything and everything else just won’t do. It’s not simply coffee or wine, ice cream or chocolate.  It’s more, much more.   It’s the difference between surviving and living. It’s the difference between living life and loving the life you live.

Sylvia poured herself a few more swallows (yes, sticking with the red) and sat down with the recipe box her mother had passed down to her.  Yep. Going to definitely make something from scratch. “I’ve got all of the ingredients right here in front of me.”

As Sylvia waited for Erma and thumbed through recipes, she kept revisiting the revelation that those first tastes of Dreaming Tree brought to light.  She herself had long been trying to satisfy her cravings with everything except that which appealed to her most. And the exchanges were indeed ridiculous!  In fact, in retrospect, the substitutions she had made to appease herself were neither sufficient nor satisfying in the least. For a few minutes, she thought about what she had done especially in recent months and even about life choices she had made as recently as yesterday.  Sylvia, taking another sip and this time letting it rest on her tongue, came to an unsettling realization: the things, the experiences, and the people that she sought to replace, whether for a brief moment in time or for the rest of eternity, could not be switched out. And as many times as she had tried to rebuild herself, strengthen her resolve to live a happier life, and to allow herself to love, she concluded that somehow her dreams had been crushed.  Her hopes and desires weren’t extinguished by anything or anyone; they hadn’t even become a blend of her wants and the desires and needs of the important others who comprised her tribe. Looking into the bottom of the stemless wine tumbler, she finally comprehended the main source of her discontent. She had settled. She was still settling. Sylvia’s dreams, hopes, desires, cravings, and wants had always been substituted for something other than that which she truly yearned for. She never wanted to be the peacemaker. She never wanted to be the people-pleaser.  She never wanted to be an angst-ridden fifty-something who looked lovely on the outside but who was dying on the inside.  Sylvia realized that she had replaced all that she wanted with everything to make those around her like her, admire her, love her, and respect her.  And while her soul was being whittled away each time she conceded or retreated, she met disappointment head-on because there was no replacement for what she wanted. Sylvia. Sylvia wanted to love and be loved on her terms.  So, while her tribe had been content with her fulfilling their needs and helping them realize their dreams, she had failed to demand or ask of them the one thing that she had wanted from them. She yearned for them to know her and treat her with the respect that she had shown them. She had accepted less, much less. But no more. No substitutions.

The door bell rang, and as she opened the door widely to welcome her trusted friend and confidante, Sylvia smiled and declared, “I’m ready to start from scratch.  Come on in.”

From Sylvia & Erma on Mother’s Day

This mid-May, Mother’s Day nor’easter on the Cape awakened me on multiple levels today (and too frequently last night if truth be told). However, in Sylvia-and-Erma fashion, I’ve tried to make sense of the morning chaos that Mother Nature has seen fit to bestow upon us, although admittedly my success may be lacking.

I’ve often felt that on days like today the gods are weeping- well, more like sobbing it appears as I look out my bedroom slider on the cove.  Yep, definitely sobbing.  Bawling, in fact.  You see, at the risk of sounding soft, gooey, and maybe even a wee bit emotional, my take on today is that the heavens have opened, and mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters, and all the little girls who were never given the chance to become any, all, or none of the aforementioned, are worried to the point of tears-for those of us who are here and remembering them oh-so-fondly at this moment and every single day we must live without them.  What are their worries you ask?  After all, how lovely it must be to have eternal peace! No homework to do for the little girl? No fear of not being invited by the cool girls to the slumber party?  No worries there.  For the nieces and aunts, no fear of the secrets they shared and kept just among  themselves – without fear of ever being revealed to their sisters or their mothers. For the sisters, no worries about who is the oldest, middle, or youngest; who will take over the position of matriarch in the family when Mom and Grandma have passed; who will be the glue? All of those worries, their worries, have hopefully been replaced by infinite bliss and the newly generated wisdom of what they have discovered as the meaning of life: live each day as if it is your last. Love passionately- whether it be for another person, humankind, or a slice of this earth. Care deeply. Laugh hard. Practice self-care. Dream of who you may become. Leave behind the parts of you that are draining. Love yourself as you are at this moment. Their worry, the worry of those women and girls, young and old, who weep for us this Mother’s Day is that we fail to appreciate the present.   

They weep because they know that missing them does not change the outcome. They shed tears for us with the hope that we learn from their successes, their failures, the dreams that either reached fruition or never came to be. But above all, their tears fall upon us to wake us up to the fact that we have what they don’t: life. Live it with purpose. With wild abandon. With determination. With fear. Yes, with a bit of fear.  Be afraid that if tomorrow never comes, you won’t have experienced the one thing that only you can possess. Love of self.

Mom, don’t cry.  I’m learning.  

“All that I am, I owe to my mother.”