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 commercial? How 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.