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My Erma Bombeck Essay

17 Mar

erma_hdrlogoI entered this essay into the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition and alas, I did not win :-( . I enjoyed writing it and hope you enjoy reading it!

The Uninvited Guest

Thanksgiving is four days away and I’m hosting 12 for dinner. I never planned for 13.

The menu had been prepared and the shopping was done. I even found a caramel apple cake recipe I couldn’t wait to bake. Then, the oven stopped working.

“Did you know you have a rat?” the repairman asked me, pointing to evidence behind the oven.

Whaat? I can barely buy dog food at Petco just knowing they have rats for sale. They scared me to death. I was looking forward to creating a memorable Thanksgiving for my family. This rat was not my family!

After examining the inner workings of my oven, he informed me it couldn’t be fixed. The rat ate through the insulation and wiring, and took up residence in the back.

Clenching my credit card, I jetted to the mall and charged $1,000 on a shiny new Kenmore. Damn rat. At least it was gone and Mamah could still have her rutabaga.

The next day, my dishwasher stopped working. As I crouched down to check it out, I saw a tail whip underneath. I screamed so loudly that both my kids flew to my rescue with super hero masks and light sabers ready for war.

This was getting personal. The oven was one thing, but no way was I letting this rat take out my dishwasher, or even worse, make me hand wash table settings for 12!  

My husband thought we needed Orkin, but I begged to differ as revenge blinded my rationale. After $2,000 (really?) and two separate “four-hour delivery windows,” I transformed from Martha Stewart to Willie from Duck Dynasty. “What we need are some good ol’ snap traps and glue boards,” I declared, heading out for ammo. That bastard was mine.

It’s the morning before Thanksgiving and still no sign of “the uninvited guest.” Should I call Orkin? What if the rat comes out of my mom’s stuffing? The horror…that’s when I heard the squeal. I entered the bathroom and there it was stuck to a glue board. I almost felt bad for the thing, but then I thought about my new credit card bill and I went Goodfellas. With the whack of a bat, I conquered my biggest fear. It’s funny what potential family shame can do to a person’s worst phobias. I wonder what else I’m capable of…

After disinfecting the crime scene, I went off to tend to my other prey, the turkey. Dinner was delicious.

Finally, it was time for the piece de resistance; my caramel apple cake. I tried heating up the caramel sauce in the microwave…but it had stopped working.

Apparently, the rat had a family, too.

Spelling Error

17 Mar



Since turning 40, I’ve noticed that I’ve become more inclined to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself with a variety of activities I might not have done 10 years ago, let alone one year ago. One of these recent “activities” was an adult spelling bee. No, I wasn’t inspired by Jason Batman’s latest film Bad Words (I didn’t even know what the movie was about until my best friend made a FB comment on my wall about trying to one up Bateman’s performance). I actually got bit by the bee bug after hearing about it from my friend who’s super brilliant son has been attending the kid’s portion for the past six years: “You should go, it’ll be great fun!” she said. “It’ll  be you, me, and a handful of octogenarians and retired school teachers.” That’s all it took. I was sold.

Now, I don’t really flaunt this fact about myself, but I am a excellent speller. It’s true. I was always the one to earn perfect scores on all my spelling tests in school and even to this day, I feel like I found the answer to world peace whenever I find a spelling error in a magazine or newspaper.

What makes me even prouder is that both of my kids are pretty amazing spellers, too. Spelling “antidisestablishmentarianism” is actually one of my daughter’s favorite party tricks.

I’m being completely honest when I say that this bee sounded super dorky, but secretly like an opportunity I’ve been waiting for my entire life. I wasn’t entirely confident about getting on stage in front of a room full of strangers and being asked to spell super hard words into a microphone. But I thought it would (hopefully) be inspiring for my kids to see, which is what pushed me over the edge to sign up.

When we first walked into the location where the bee was being held, I noticed a group of adults literally “studying” spelling bee word books and pacing around like they were waiting on a jury verdict. All this anticipation suddenly made me a bit jittery, too, and when the lady at registration asked me to spell my last name, I couldn’t remember it. Was it D-O-Y-L-E or W-H-A-T-T-H-E-F-U-C-K-A-M-I-D-O-I-N-G?

I’m proud to say that I not only made it to the stage, but I got to the seventh round! My demise was met with the word “hematocrit.” I never heard that one in my life. I repeated it literally 10 times on stage before spelling it H-E-M-A-T-A-C-R-I-T-E.


My kids were proud of me (and happy when I finally got out so we could eat dinner). The fact that I didn’t fly across the country like one of the contestants who got out in the second round was my biggest victory, though. Poor guy.

The Last Post of the Year!

31 Dec

This essay was originally published in the March 2012 issue of L.A. Parent magazine when it won first place in the “Moms Who Write” contest. Since today is the last day of 2013, I’ve been reflecting on past accomplishments and resolutions I’m striving in for in 2014. I was proud of winning this contest and plan on pushing myself to do more. It’s also Xmas vacation, and I’m feeling super lazy so a repost is about all I can muster right now. Cheers and Happy New Year!


First Place: The Charity Case

Robin Tolkan-Doyle shows how, even on a bad day when nothing seems to be going right, a mom can teach a charitable lesson to her kids.

“You won’t win this one,” I found myself saying to my 8-year-old daughter. It was 8:15 am on a Saturday morning and I was on the other side of one of her glorious meltdowns. “I’m NOT going,” Ella screamed. “I’m staying HOME!” There’s nothing I enjoy more than being verbally assaulted by my beautiful first born, especially when I voluntarily trade in a precious sleep-in day for playing escort to one of my kids’ 15,000 different activities. Today’s mission?  Driving my son, Liam, to his improvisational comedy class on the opposite side of the Valley.


I had an idealistic vision of how this sunny morning was going to play out; while Liam honed his inner Will Ferrell, Mickey the dog, Ella and I would soak in some vitamin D as we frolicked along Ventura Blvd. If she changed her ’tude, a sugary treat might have even been in her near future. Doesn’t she know what I do for her and her brother? Well, she WAS going and she was going to have a fabulous time.

Despite my feelings of under-appreciation, I managed to corral the troops into my eco-friendly trend car. The box of Hostess powdered donuts that I tossed in the back seat provided reinforcement (read: bribe; don’t sue me) and I actually got Liam to class on time (which is a feat in itself). As Mickey pulled us down the boulevard, I blocked out Ella’s moans and groans by gazing into the windows of my favorite clothing stores and fantasized about shopping without an entourage. I thought about all the calories I was burning on this fabulous power walk. And then I noticed Mr. Homeless Man.

With a bath and some clean clothes, he would have looked like one of the dads at my kids’ school. He had a limp that implied his left leg was hurt, but it didn’t deter him from making his way to the garbage can across from the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. He was looking for breakfast and eating whatever he could find.

Being a born and bred Valley girl, this was a scene I’m familiar with. However, something about this man and my daughter witnessing his desperation was different; I felt like I needed to do something for him. If nothing else, I thought, maybe Ella would learn a charitable lesson from me buying him breakfast and better appreciate how good she’s got it.

I told her that I was going to go into Coffee Bean to buy the man something to eat and she sarcastically asked, “Why?” “He’s hungry,” I said. I took Mickey’s leash and tied it to one of the chairs outside before going in. This particular Coffee Bean had doors that automatically opened as you walk in. As I entered with Ella, all the patrons and baristas immediately started laughing at us. Unbeknownst to me, Mickey had followed us right in, dragging the chair in behind him. Through my embarrassed red flush, I led Mickey back outside and secured his leash to the chair.


Random picture of Mickey posing as a samurai.

Back in I went, handed my credit card to the cashier and asked her for a bagel. Five seconds later, I heard that same chair being dragged down the sidewalk. I ran over to check out what was happening and THIS is what I saw: Mickey running like Frogger into traffic, hauling the steel chair behind him. The loud scraping noise the chair made on the cement spooked my little guy out. Car brakes slammed, horns honked, chaos ensued and I screamed at the top of my lungs “MICKEY! COME HERE! MICKKEEYY!” He managed to cross the street unharmed and quickly headed south into the neighborhood behind the retail stores. I was frozen with terror. I didn’t know what to do first. Stay with my daughter in the Coffee Bean?  Run head first into traffic after Mickey? The sheer weight of dragging a patio chair into traffic caused Mickey’s collar to break off, so now he was tagless, and the chair was sitting smack dab in the middle of Whitsett and Ventura.

My screams were obviously heard throughout the coffee shop because two men enjoying their morning Joe immediately ran out into street to save Mickey. I yelled to Ella to remain inside the Coffee Bean and chased behind the men in pursuit of my fugitive dog.

Thoughts of my husband killing me popped into my head. He loves Mickey. Sometimes, I think, more than me. Why was this happening? I was just trying to do something nice. Teach Ella a lesson. Feed a homeless person. What is Ella doing now by herself in the Coffee Bean!? Has she been taken under the wing of a struggling screenwriter who’s teaching her the ins and outs of Final Draft?

Two blocks down, I saw that a white SUV had, thankfully, come to Mickey’s rescue. I dashed over to the car and the woman in the front seat was cradling Mickey like a baby. “He was going so fast and he looked so scared!” she said. “Why don’t you have a collar on him?” Too grateful to dish out a snarky reply, I quickly took Mickey in my arms and recounted my story about buying a homeless man a bagel and almost getting my dog killed in the process.

The two men who came to my aid walked me back to the Coffee Bean as I covered Mickey with kisses. The barista who took my order was waiting on the corner with my credit card, the bagel, the store manager … and, oh yeah, my DAUGHTER!

They were so happy to see that Mickey was OK, especially Ella, who was wiping away tears. As for Mr. Homeless Man? He had vanished, taking with him the valiant lesson I was going to teach my daughter. Ironically, I was standing there holding that bagel, right by that same trashcan. That’s when I started to lose it.

I don’t know if I’ve set “charity” back by this bungled demonstration. I was trying to do something selfless and teach my daughter a lesson and I ended up becoming the charity case. Those people in the Coffee Bean didn’t see me as the do-gooder I was aspiring to be. Instead, they saw a frazzled, overwhelmed mom who leaves her daughter alone with strangers. Luckily for me, though, those strangers had my back when I needed it most. And that’s the greatest act of charity anyone can give.

If anyone learned a lesson, it was I: don’t tie your dog to a chair that weighs less than he does and expect it to stay put. Also, don’t try to teach lessons as that obviously does not work (see above). Maybe living by example is the best way to parent.

After we collected my son and climbed back into the car, I waved the magic bagel in front of both kids to see if they wanted to eat it. Because my hands were still trembling with adrenaline, I accidentally dropped it and Mickey immediately claimed it. Ella began telling Liam the story of what happened and pointed to the scene of the crime as we headed home: “Mommy ran into traffic right here to save Mickey from getting hit by a car!”

“Oh my gosh! Liam exclaimed. “She’s a superhero!”


It was nice to hear my kids talking so highly of me. I could live with “superhero.” I started to exhale.

But before I could soak up the moment, I heard Mickey gagging in the back seat. Projectile bagel vomit blanketed my freshly washed floor mats. I heroically kept heading east on the 101, hoping that I made it till 11 o’clock.