Life, Parenting

Missing: One Sense of Humour

 

magnifying glass by solveigzophoniasdottir on flickr

 

Parenting is a serious business.  We’re charged with the care and safety of actual living people; and, more than that, we are expected to teach and encourage these little human beings, and nurture them to maturity as well.

When my first two boys were small, I was continually stressed out about their very survival.  Our A. has always been a curious child, and as a tot he would engage in ritual experiments involving water and wetting things and messes and tasting things…  Thus I never really trusted that I could safely leave him alone for a minute.

With the provision of a little brother, A.’s curiosity saw a natural opportunity to try out all those things he had wondered about but had been concerned about having an adverse effect on his own well-being.  And although not a naturally rough or violent child, he was as yet too young to appreciate the possibly fatal or damaging consequences of some of the experiments for which he had volunteered his brother as guinea pig. Why do they say it hurts when you pull hair? he would query. What happens when you move the cushion the baby’s leaning on?  And when B. cried, it was an interesting resolution to that query for him – so he moved on to the next experiment, and then the next (and so on).

I was terrified that one of these hypotheses would involve a heavy object and his baby brother’s head, and so I hovered, vigilant always, to protect B. from A. and A. from himself.

As B. grew, he proved sturdy enough to endure even the most rigorous testing from A. – and indeed, he soon began to investigate various theories of physics for himself.  He was the most agile and fearless of climbers.  The idea of B. and any balcony containing furniture sent chills down my spine – I could just picture him clambering up and…  Once, when he was about eighteen months old, I happened to glance away from him – and in that short moment he managed to mount an exterior flight of stairs and exit onto the flat roof of my sister’s house.  Parenting B. has never been for the faint of heart.

Enter C. and I suddenly found myself with three boys under four and only my original two flapping hands and two crazily-darting eyes to cope with them.

While I loved – adored! – my three tots, I was regularly in spasms of anxiety about their safety.  It just seemed that risks and danger lurked everywhere – and that was without being paranoid about it!

It was no surprise that I found myself rather lacking in opportunities to laugh.  I mean, West and I still often shared a weary chuckle once the little ones were tucked up in bed sleeping sweetly, but during the day?  Hardly a snicker.

Before having kids and when I just had one new baby, I often wondered about how mothers could look on, stony-faced, whilst their cherubs romped joyfully around the sandpit.  But now I knew. Last week, those cherubs probably ate a dog turd in that sand.  Or they ran away from the playground.  Or they threw sand in each other’s faces (and their own). Or… (you can insert a tale from your own experience or imagination).  And that poor Mama, she was just sitting there being vigilant.  There’s not much fun in playing security guard.  It’s exhausting.  It’s hard to see the silly side of things when so much of your time and energy is spent in just keeping the kids alive and well and clean and fed.

Sometimes, when I was particularly stressed and crabby, I’d tell my kids, “I used to be FUNNY, you know!  Kids used to LIKE me!”  But I knew that they’d rarely seen evidence of it.  I seemed to have lost my sense of humour altogether.  ‘Crabby baggage’ was my default setting as a mother; admonishment, not amusement, was the norm.

Everywhere around me were other parents whose senses of humour seemed to remain intact around their offspring.  They’d post on facebook about funny things their kids had said or done.  And I’d think, how do these people have kids with so much personality? How come their lives look like some kind of carefree resort commercialHow do they make having kids look like such FUN??

And then I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t their kids who were so different from mine.

I began to consider that maybe, just maybe, it was more a difference in perspective.

Yes, I am a ‘precautious’ parent.  So maybe I place a higher value on risk management than some of my counterparts.  But still, that shouldn’t preclude my enjoyment of this fleeting phase of my sons’ early childhoods – I should still be able to see the funny side of things.  And so I decided that I would.

I started to look more carefully at my boys’ antics and notice their quirks with a greater appreciation.  I began to see the comical side of their capers, even while still being careful to monitor the safety of their escapades.

It’s not that I suddenly leapt from needing to be particularly attentive to my boys to a slacker concern about worrisome behaviours; I still needed to be alert to possible hazards, and my boys were still young enough to get into dangerous shenanigans without knowing any better.  But I just began to find a better balance between ‘fraught’ and ‘funny’.

And the more I looked for amusement and enjoyment in the time I spent with my boys, the more diverting I found my time with them to be.

In fact, without taking anything away from my friends’ kids and their delightful idiosyncrasies (as highlighted on facebook), I realized that my boys also provided plenty of fodder for laughter.  And in finding more humour in my parenting experience, I found that I was a happier Mama in general.

Now that my older boys are mature enough to be deliberately funny, too, they regularly keep me in stitches.  But even little D., just twenty months old now, is a little character with a great sense of humour. They’re all delightfully weird and unique, as all kids are – which, now that I can see it, does rather lend to the hilarity of life.

A., for instance, came home from a visit recently and proudly announced that he hadn’t been partial to the food served by the host, but he ate it anyway – and this feat he managed because with every bite he told himself, “Think of a nice teddy bear, think of a nice teddy bear…”  This has since become a funny mantra we repeat to ourselves whenever we have to do something we find difficult.  He also has hypochondriac tendencies and loves to leave us notes early in the morning about what his temperature was upon waking up and how he’s feeling in every part of his physical self – these often contain creative spelling and phraseology.  And he often comes up with good answers to my query of ‘How did school go today?’ – like the time he responded, “It was OK, I guess. I was full of big coughs and hot farts.”  Classic.

B. loves all things ‘grown up’ – and he is a great collector of artifacts of adult life, such as keys, briefcases, clipboards, and dress clothes.  He hoards these ‘official’ items and pulls them out for regular use.  The other week his pants were so heavily laden with keys (and handcuffs – he fancies himself a trainee spy/policeman) that they kept falling down when he bent over.  And last night I stooped to kiss him as he slept and saw that he had adjusted a sleep mask to fit his small face; the excess elastic hung to one side in an oversized ringlet.  No doubt he was blissfully dreaming of the time to come, when he will be tall and in charge.

C. has a delightful sense of humour and a great sense of logic; it’s funny to witness his wit and hear how he methodically works through ideas to an often hilarious conclusion.  He also holds his emotional cards close to his chest.  At kindergarten pick-up time he searches me out and beams in spite of himself as he sees me, but thereafter deliberately avoids eye contact (even while he is unable to contain that grin from spreading across his face as he waits to be dismissed from the line-up).  He will look every which way but in my direction, and it totally cracks me up, because he looks so sheepish while he glances around with that self-conscious smile.

D.’s young yet, but he has already cottoned on to the hilarity of life.  He cackles along when we’re laughing about something, and he knows how to bring down the house with a signature dance move or a little eyebrow raise.  He throws everything, except rocks – I know that he can safely cart a stone around in his little fist without chucking it at a passing car because he holds onto rocks with a death grip.  Separating him from his geological samples at the front door after a walk around the block has become a ritual anguish.  But it’s funny, too, because if we can distract him with a toy digger or another of his faves then he quickly moves on from the trauma of parting with the rock-du-jour.  He has peculiar tastes – he loves munching on cloves (long story).  So he, too, is a little character-in-the-making and we are just tickled by all the cute things he does.

Weirdest of all, perhaps, is my children’s Pavlovian response to the sound of the fish-oil capsule container being shaken…  From an early age we’ve treated the fish oil as a ‘treat’ for after dinner, so that now they see it as a reward.  If we’ve forgotten to give them their vitamins for a few days, West will take the bottle and shake it, and the kids come running like puppies at feeding time.  C.’s best thing is for West to hide his capsule in a little bowl of yoghurt.  And of course they find it hilarious that I will run from their fishy kisses after they’ve indulged in their vitamin treat.  Bleurgh.

So, yeah – turns out I have funny kids, after all!

It’s not all fun and games around here.  I still take my job of mothering very seriously – but I’ve found my sense of humour again, and that makes it all a lot more fun. I laugh far more often than I used to.  I’m learning to cherish the moments, to look for the humour in the parenting process, and to celebrate the unique characters and gifts of each of my precious boys.  And the fact that I’m enjoying motherhood more as a result?  Well, that’s no laughing matter.

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Marriage

A Funny Thing Happened On Our Way to a Happy Marriage

Funny Thing

 

“The determining factor in whether couples feel satisfied with the sex, romance and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of their FRIENDSHIP with each other.”

Research on the subject of marriage relationships tells us that ‘happily married’ couples have five positive interactions for every negative one; in comparison, those who ultimately divorced averaged just 0.8 positive interactions for every negative one.

The ‘Happify’ website also cites a study in which “couples who were asked to recall a moment that involved ‘shared laughter’ reported being more satisfied than those prompted to recall positive moments in their relationship.”  So laughter, in addition to being ‘the best medicine’, is also greatly beneficial to the health of a marriage.  This is good news for me and West because laughter is quite literally the glue that holds us together.  The crazy glue.

Westley and I met fourteen years ago on St. Patrick’s Day.  Our shared sense of humour gave us one of our first connections, and laughter has continued to define and enrich our relationship in the years that have followed.  West often has me in stitches, and I love him for it.

Our ability to laugh at ourselves – and (gently) at one another – has stood us in good stead throughout our marriage.

That’s not to say that we don’t take things seriously.  Indeed, we can be very staid and un-fun when the occasion calls for it – and of course there have been stages in which laughter hasn’t come as easily as at other times – but in general as we’ve grown and matured in our relationship we’ve also grown more relaxed about our own foibles and fonder of one another’s small quirks.  We have also added to our list of ‘inside jokes’ with each passing year, as must be true of most happy couples.

In the close relationship of a marriage, we have the opportunity to be one another’s greatest cheerleader – or cause each other the greatest hurt.  By keeping the laughter alive, we stay on the right side of the ledger.

Both of us love to joke with the other.  We’ve even occasionally invented silly games to inject a bit of fun into life:

  • When we were newlyweds, we used to pluck a random word from the dictionary and challenge each other to insert it into the general conversation at parties.  One of the rules was that we couldn’t explain to anyone else why we had used the word (bonus points were given for using it appropriately in a sentence).
  • When our first two boys were small, we’d take turns choosing a sentimental book at the library and get the other to read it aloud to the kids – if possible, without crying.  We’d giggle as we (and each other) snivelled  our way through the stories, quietly loving the fact that our hearts were so equally tender.

More than these contrived amusements, though, our differing natures have provided us with great fodder for fun.  In the area of cars and driving alone, West and I are vastly different; and thus we have lots to laugh about.

For one thing, West loves cars (this will surprise those of you who know we drive a lowly minivan – but then you will realize the depth of his sacrificial love for me, that he deigns to own and drive it!).  He knows cars, and can recognize a type/make/model of car just by its angles, lights, and other subtle features.  On the other hand, I know nothing about cars.  I struggle to notice, let alone remember, the details of any particular vehicle. I frequently pass people I know who are waving furiously as they drive by me – they’ve probably thought I’d registered it was them because I’d have recognized their vehicle and peered inside to see them.  But in fact I have no idea who has what car. Half the time I only recognize our car by the license plate…  West thinks this deficiency in me utterly hilarious.  And I have to chuckle about it being such a no-brainer for him to recognize so many different vehicles.

I have something of a handicap when it comes to navigation.  I understand how to read a map, and if I am at home and I can register what route I need to take ahead of time (especially if I have the added clues of landmarks to guide me – thank you, Google ‘Street View’ – and an ability to turn the map around to sort out which way I should turn at which intersection), then I can generally manage.  But ask me to navigate (in the heat of the moment) in a place that’s foreign to me while we’re driving along at some speed, and you’ll be out of luck.

This has led to problems.

When we spent several weeks driving through Spain and Portugal together a couple of years into marriage, I acted as navigator while West drove along the impossibly narrow streets and attempted to locate our accommodations in various quaint towns.  When he grew frustrated at my inability to navigate without twisting the map around and asking him to attempt the roundabout for the fifth time, I grew frustrated, too – and threatened to toss his precious map out the window.  Some damage did occur to that map, and it may have occurred because of some intentional or unintentional foot-stomping of mine – but that’s all I’ll say on the subject.

My difficulty with navigation is not confined to making my way around unfamiliar places – I can also get lost when I know the road well, as I have no innate sense of direction.  Just the other day I was driving A. to his weekly keyboard lesson and became confused with where I was and where I was supposed to turn off.  So I stayed on the road and ended up going over the bridge to the wrong side of the water.  It was a harrowing ordeal for someone with no sense of direction; I felt rather like I could contribute my story to that ‘I Survived’ series of books. Miraculously, I did make it to the lesson in the end (albeit twenty minutes late, after having to stop back on my side of the bridge for a look at the stupid map!).  It’s no surprise that, with my difficulty in navigating and my lack of a sense of direction, driving is not my favourite pastime.

West loves to drive.  The idea of a long, scenic drive is, for him, absolute bliss (even with four kids in the back seats of the minivan).  I think he’s crackers, but I love it that he likes to drive – because I’m far less stressed out when he is in the driver’s seat.

But it’s not just the subjects of cars and driving that lend humour to our lives.  We also have lots to laugh about with our little idiosyncrasies.

I love to laugh about how reticent Westley is to share his thoughts and feelings, considering how opposite we are in that – and he laughs about my verbosity (nice of him, really!).  I love planning but I’m rubbish at follow-through and he struggles to plan but he follows through on all the loose ends I leave dangling around – we laugh about that, too.  I laugh about his pessimism and he chuckles about my optimism.  West has this desire to communicate his ponderings about highly technical subjects and I have zero interest in listening – he tries sometimes but he rarely gets far before I’m in fits of giggles about the complexity of the subject and my inability to grasp even the desire to know about it.

The other day West was picking me up from a ferry in the pouring rain.  As I emerged from the terminal building I peered through the downpour to see our car, and to my relief I saw West driving towards me from where he had parked.  I got into the car and he was chuckling, so I asked him what was so funny; he replied that he had wondered how he’d spot me in the sea of raincoats, but in the end he had known it was me by my mannerisms.  Apparently I had craned my neck forwards to try to see the car, and this was utterly hilarious to Westley, who pointed out that this position would hardly prove an advantage in spotting a vehicle some meters away.  I had to laugh, too – it hadn’t occurred to me that it was a futile gesture.

Equally futile, according to Westley, are my attempts to draw his attention to something by pointing at it.  He insists that I don’t point properly; he says that I just line the object up with the tip of my finger even if my finger is pointing in the wrong direction.  In his infinite wisdom, during our first year of marriage, he even went so far as to tape a small flashlight to my finger and take me into a darkened room to practice ‘proper pointing’.  Of course, I was giggling so hard that I couldn’t point properly at anything.  He quickly learned that the exercise was – ‘scuse the pun – pointless.

West was also the one to point out that I am apt to stamp my foot when frustrated with him.  I suppose this makes me look like a petulant child – and if I’m honest I sometimes feel like one when I am having a rant and he is looking at me in his aggravatingly bemused fashion.  But now if I am bent out of shape about something and unconsciously stamp my foot, West just smiles and points at my foot and it kind of takes the edge out of the whole thing.  I have to smile, which totally ruins the whole being-mad thing.

In fact, one of the things I love about West is his special take on life; and I believe that he feels the same about me (if not, perhaps we will laugh about that later, too).  He is the perfect foil to my madness, and I am mad about him.

So, a funny thing happened on our way to a happy marriage – or lots of funny things, actually – and it turns out that each of those shared moments of laughter has contributed to our treasured friendship with one another.

 

 

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