Humorous essays on the trials of juggling career, four children, and a household in the tradition of Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry, but not yet in their league. Delivering a lighthearted look at suburban domesticity in the '90s, Ledbetter (The Toast Always Lands Jelly-Side Down, not reviewed) relies heavily on hyperbole -- a tool of this trade -- and trendy locutions, like ""oxygen-challenged"" goldfish and ""bovine-advantaged"" landscapes (her Missouri home). The author's subjects are such everyday occurrences as male vs. female shaving, mall shopping with a friend, giving and receiving gifts, plus such contemporary ponderables as computers, air terminals, and animal psychics. The list that follows ""You Know It's Gonna Be a Bad Day When..."" hits the right mix of finger-poking exaggeration (signing a hotel registration form with a tampon instead of the pen that was also at the bottom of the purse) and painful reality (the fearsome ""You go to wake up your teenager and find that the bed hasn't been slept in""). But ""Second Childhood,"" which wraps up the collection, is less successful. The sentimental bid to return to the satisfactions of peanut butter and crackers over bacon-wrapped chicken livers and a room decorated with ""My Stuff,"" doesn't ring true for such a self-sufficient woman. It's not enough to be flippant and funny; this slice-of-life kind of humor is social commentary as well. The most successful floats on undercurrents of compassion for the always fragile human condition. At this point, Ledbetter's reach exceeds her grasp. (The title, incidentally, is a quote from Gypsy Rose Lee.) Not the best of this genre, but lively and a reminder that there is almost nothing that can't be laughed at -- including recently sacrosanct Middle America.