Life, Parenting, Relationships


Awkward family photo 1986

If you take a little gander at this special family photo of ours (circa 1986), you’ll see one normal looking person; the sweet little blonde girl at the front.  She is not related to us.  I don’t know how it was that not a single member of my family was looking at the camera – I’ll blame it on that brilliant sunshine for which Scotland is so renowned.

There’s a whole website dedicated to ‘awkward family photos’, and I’ve thought about submitting this one, although it must be said that there would be plenty of others to choose from.  But there’s something about this particular picture; our benignly somnolent expressions and out-dated clothes (we’d been living in the tropics – these were the first long pants we’d worn for years), the odd yet jaunty angle of my jutting leg, the fetching eyewear… All of it combines into a veritable portrait of discomfiture.

I’ve often felt kind of physically awkward.  I am knock kneed, un-coordinated (I call it ‘low physical intelligence’), big-bottomed (I’m supposedly caucasian, but this is proof of a Bushman ancestor), and short-sighted.

If you put me on the spot and ask me to speak formally to a crowd, I will become tongue-tied and sweaty and develop a stammer. But if I’m talking just to you, I might be equally uncomfortable – when conversing one-on-one I don’t always know where to look or how much to look away; it’s a fine line between creating that kind of creepy intensity when someone locks eyes with you and never glances away and looking around so much that the other person wonders whether you need medicating… (I’m in my element in a small group where I have no official role and can therefore share stories and a laugh without feeling pressured to perform.)

When I run, I am embarrassingly slow – by which I mean that I have been passed in a race by runners in the 70-years-and-up category and a double amputee (man, that guy was fast!).  I usually wear a baseball cap when I’m training so I’m harder to recognize, but who am I kidding – how many other knock-kneed women with rotund rumps are there tripping over curbs in my neighbourhood??

I realize that I’m not alone in having these awkward moments.  In fact, as a friend of mine often says, I “come by them honestly”; my family history is peppered with hilarious stories of awkwardness:

Once, coming home from university, my sister calculated her bus fare and gave the remainder of her change to a beggar, only to realize that she needed more for a rush hour ticket.  She had to return and beg some of her money back.

My Grandpa earned the contempt of a neighbour lady when he performed his ‘cake flip’ trick (a loop-de-loop in which centripetal force was expected to glue the cake to the plate) a bit too slowly and launched her gateau. 

I have one relative whose underpants elastic failed on a crowded railway platform (with no hands free to catch the dropping drawers), and another who mistook a port-a-potty urinal for a handbag holder…

My own personal history of awkwardness started early.  One lunch hour when I was in grade one, we were all taking turns hamming it up and pretending to give the classroom garbage can a big kick.  It was hilarious until I clumsily kicked a bit too hard and knocked the whole thing over, scattering refuse across the floor (which did not, in spite of my prayers, open up and swallow me right then and there).

In grade six, we did a unit of dancing in gym class, and the boy I was paired with asked me if I’d mind letting him lead for a change.  It was bad enough that I had sweaty palms and two left feet – worse still that I was accused of being a dominating dance partner.

Then there was the time in my teens when my best friend came over and confessed that she was nervous about her parents being away on a cruise.  I decided to recount, for her amusement, the story of how a great aunt and uncle of mine had escaped the sinking of a large cruise liner a year or so before.  She took no comfort in my tale, and took her leave of me shortly thereafter (fortunately, she is the forgiving sort – we are still the best of friends).

One evening in my early twenties my sister and I tried out an aerobics class.  We found ourselves directly in front of the mirror and – shame of shames – lagging at least twenty seconds behind the rest of the crowd for the entire duration of the lesson.  We were so helpless with mirth at some points of the routine that we had to stop and clutch our sides.  Not quite the workout we’d signed up for.

Even in ‘growing up’ I have not managed to grow out of my awkwardness.  As a mother, there have been many awkward moments – some have been related to things my boys have said, but often enough the blame lays solely with me.  I’ve managed to squirt myself in the eye when nursing (a few times, actually); I’ve flashed a delivery man (forgot to hitch my shirt down after a feed); I’ve forgotten the names of good friends while under the influence of ‘baby brain’; and just last summer I spent half an hour howling in a library parking lot as I waited for the paramedics after badly dislocating my shoulder (I concluded this episode lying on my back on the asphalt – so glamourous!).  I get ticklish at inopportune times (not sexy to succumb to a fit of the giggles when your hubby whispers sweet nothings in your ear).  I often dress inappropriately for the weather or events; I’ve had jokes flop; and I’ve had a couple of unfortunate parking mishaps. I’ve had more graceless moments in adulthood than in the whole of my childhood, so I can’t claim to be improving with age.  Awkward is my middle name.

But I don’t mind confessing to this awkwardness.  I don’t mind sharing stories that show me to be clumsy and, at times, ridiculous.  I’m quite happy to laugh at myself and to invite others to join me in doing so – and why is this?  If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I’m loved.

I know I’m loved, and therefore it’s OK that I have these awkward moments and it’s alright that I make wacky mistakes.  It’s OK that I sometimes trip up and fall on my face – because there’s always going to be someone there to laugh with me, pick me up, and dust me off.

I’m teaching my boys that it’s OK to be imperfect, too, and that there’s a lot of fun to be had in laughing at yourself when you know you’re more than the sum of your silliness; there’s a great comic camaraderie in the swapping of embarrassing stories when we know that we are neither defined by nor reduced by the funny things we do or how ridiculous we look doing them.

Love covers a multitude of sins; it lends grace to the graceless and affords us the opportunity to poke fun at our foolishness.  What a joy it is to be loved, even in our awkwardness!

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.