CLIO TALKS BACK: What Kind of Mother . . . ?

Erma Bombeck (1927-1996) was one of America’s most beloved writers. She did not write novels, she wrote humorous and irreverent observations about the serious things in life.

In tribute to the perils and joys of motherhood everywhere, Clio is sharing this excerpt from Erma Bombeck’s observations on motherhood:
"‘What kind of a mother would . . .’ It was a familiar phrase. Ten years and three children earlier, I had used it myself with just the right blend of shock and disapproval. . . .
“ ‘Mother’ has always been a generic term synonymous with love, devotion, and sacrifice. There’s always been something mystical and reverent about them. They’re . . . infallible, virtuous, without flaws and conceived without original sin, with no room for ambivalence.
“Immediately following birth, every new mother drags from her bed and awkwardly pulls herself up on the pedestal provided for her.
“Some adjust easily to the saintly image. They come to love the adulation and bask in the flocks that come to pay homage at their feet on Mother’s Day.
“Some can’t stand the heights and jump off, never to be seen again.
“But most mothers just try to figure out what they’re supposed to do—and how they can do it in public.
“Motherhood is the second oldest profession in the world. It never questions age, height, religious preference, health, political affiliation, citizenship, morality, ethnic background, marital status, economic level, convenience, or previous experience.
“It’s the biggest on-the-job training program in existence today.
“Motherhood is not a one-size-fits all, a mold that is all-encompassing and means the same thing to all people.
“Some mothers give standing ovations to bowel movements. Other mothers reserve their excitement for an affair.
“Some mothers have so much guilt, they cannot eat a breath mint without sharing it. Other mothers feel nothing when they tell a kid his entire pillowcase of Halloween candy got ants in it . . . and eats it herself. . . .
“I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the articles that eulogized me as a nurse, chauffeur, cook, housekeeper, financier, counselor, philsopher, mistress, teacher, and hostess. It seemed that I always read an article like this on the day when my kid was in a school play and I ironed only the leg of the trouser that faced the audience, knitted all morning, napped all afternoon, bought a pizza for dinner, and had a headache by 10:30.
“For a long time, I was afraid to laugh at the contrast for fear no one else would. . . .
“What is certain is that there is probably not one of you who has not at some time of your life demanded an answer to the question “What kind of a mother would . . .’ It’s an old phrase, conceived in innocence, carried with pomposity, and born of condemnation. It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.
“Let none of you who read about . . . mothers judge them until you have walked in their shoes of clay.”

Source: Erma Bombeck: “Introduction” to Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (McGraw-Hill, 1983), excerpts pp. 1-4.