"How much are we messing up our kids by writing about them?" she asked.
"There is a lot of guilt in this room, isn't there?" he replied
Hang Me on the Fridge
by Susan Law Corpany
Pass the Guilt, Please
I just returned from a wonderful time at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop held in Dayton, Ohio. After visiting with fellow writers for a couple of days, I surmised that most of them there were humor columnists, many of them weighing in Erma-style on the challenges of motherhood and providing slice-of-life humor.
Among the many events, we had a chance to meet Erma’s husband Bill, and her three children. After the showing of a documentary about Erma’s life, they had graciously consented to field some questions from the attendees. After a few questions, a mini-theme emerged. “How much are we messing up our kids by writing about them?” We were encouraged, however, by noting that the Bombeck offspring all seemed to be normal functioning adults with jobs and families.
Erma’s son, Andy, reached for the mike. “There’s a lot of guilt in this room, isn’t there?”
I have been telling “Scott stories” since the day he was born and peed on the doctor. (Perhaps that is why we lifted his name from the toilet paper dispenser in the hospital bathroom after the birth certificate lady was on her third time through.) As we writers began to relate these stories gleaned from the antics of our children, it never occurred to us to consider that the day would come when these same children who have been, and will continue to be, fodder for our writings would be able to read.
I solved the problem by paying royalties, and eventually doing what any good writer does when sharing an experience that belongs to someone else—asking permission.
“Can I use the ‘Kermit the Frog’ in my talk in church today?”
“Will you buy me a new Ninja Turtle?”
For a ten-year-old he was pretty smart. He always granted me one-time North American rights, knowing I would have to renegotiate the next time I wanted to use it.
“How much for ‘Get Your Arm Away from the Door?’”
“Star Wars Legos. The one with Yoda and Darth Vader.”
“Okay, the mini set though, not the big one.”
“I guess the mini set is okay. That one is not too embarrassing.”
“I’m working on a book with a chapter about personal responsibility, and I want to use ‘What have you done, Mom?’”
“That’s gonna cost you. Geez Mom, I’ve been toilet-trained for 15 years, can’t you find some new material?”
“A classic is a classic. A Bloomin’ Onion from Outback?”
“A Bloomin’ Onion and a deck of Magic Cards.”
“I’m using ‘Gas Money’ and the Easter Egg story, but I figure those are mine because I’m the one that looks stupid in them.”
“They’re not worth anything without my punchlines.”
“The Mustang or the Camaro?”
The kid’s cleaning up. Of course, he is named after a roll of toilet paper.