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.

Faith, Life, Parenting


leaning over the balcony

Once, when we were dating, I had an entire conversation with Westley about being ‘precautious.’  After he had listened respectfully for some time, he ventured, “You do know that it’s not ‘precautious,’ don’t you?”  Yeah – I’m only a writer and an editor and a logophile; why would I know that?! (*Ohtheshame*) Somehow I had subconsciously mixed ‘precaution’ and ‘cautious’ to create my own word; and actually, the way I was using it was more like ‘over-cautious’ or ‘vigilant.’

I am something of a Nervous Nellie.  I read recently that research has uncovered a gene variation in a certain percentage of the population that makes them more likely to foresee danger and to accurately assess the physical risk of a situation.  I definitely have that gene.

In fact, one of the researchers even said that “people who have this genetic variant are more inclined to have strong emotional memories” – further proof that I have it.

Wherever I am, I am alert to the dangers lurking in that situation.  Aside from being genetically predisposed to spot potential hazards, I have also been nurtured to think this way.  My Mum is the queen of cautionary tales, and I have been known to repeat a few to the boys – and West as well – although none of them have taken to the instruction so naturally as I did.  I was always appreciative of this special education – how else would I have known about the possibility of being paralyzed by misjudging the depth of a pool (feet first except at the deep end); choking on a marshmallow when playing ‘chubby bunnies’ (refused to play); or going blind from looking at the sun (not even a peep!)?

This insight into the chances so many people take without any forethought gave me pause whenever I was in any novel situation; I would scan my memory for any instruction warning me of the dangers of said situation and proceed accordingly.  I did not drive with new drivers or people I knew to have ‘a need for speed’.  Lest I suffer the same fate as ‘the boy who cried wolf,’ I would never scream unless it were an emergency.  I don’t listen to music too loudly, to avoid impairing my hearing. And I would never, ever eat something past its ‘use by’ date.   I take these precautions because I am naturally, you know – precautious.

To add fuel to the fire (another danger!), at university I majored in Criminology.  I’m therefore very much aware of the sinister nature human interactions can take; and so I take appropriate action to avoid becoming the victim of a more intentional injury in the same way that I avoid succumbing to more accidental harm.  I always check the back seats before I get into my car at night.  I have been friendly but not open with strangers (except – oops! – in my blog).  I always scan for exits in any situation and often go over a game plan in my mind of what I’d do in an emergency – especially if I feel threatened.  You know – just being precautious.

So, having been born and trained into calculating (and mitigating) the inherent risks of life, I have by now become a veritable walking advertisement for ‘play safe’.  I am a very careful (some would say nervous) driver: I scout for hazards and choose ‘the lane of least resistance’;  I maintain a safe following distance from the car ahead and increase that space if the person behind me isn’t as strict about their own spacing; I follow the speed limit; and I ‘merge like a zip’.

I am also a safety-conscious parent.  In pregnancy, I was always concerned about exposure to chemicals (guess who had nine months off bathroom-cleaning duty?!); eating the right things; not eating the wrong things; avoiding risky sports; and so on.  And once the babies were out in the world then it opened up a whole new world of worry.  Baby-proofing, instructing them about all manner of hazards (from ‘stranger danger’ to not being sufficiently wedged into their five-point-harnessed carseats), being germ-aware… ‘Better safe than sorry’ is my mantra.

People have teased me for this precautiousness as I’ve gone through life (although I’d like to point out that I’ve never broken a bone, and that good fortune must be due at least in part to my deliberate avoidance of perilous pastimes). My nephews, in particular, like to tease me about how nervous I get when they practice their parkour.  These guys are climbing monkeys and I just cannot take the stress.  By some miracle they have avoided broken bones thus far but one of them did knock a permanent dimple into his cheek with a fall from the back of the sofa.  And my boys, too, give me a hard time about calling them down when they get too high up a tree (I’ve seen Pollyanna – I know what can happen!) and freaking out when they run out to the edge of the sidewalk to greet an arriving guest at the curb.

But look – it pays to know your strengths, does it not?  I’m not a person you’d choose to have with you in a medical emergency.  I have taken the first aid courses, it’s true – but I know all that prudent advice would fly out the window at the first sight of the wound.  I’d be more likely to need assistance, myself, for injuries sustained when I fell backwards in a dead faint at the shock…  I speak from experience.  When B. needed stitches on his forehead several summers ago (due to an ill-aimed tent pole being launched by A.), I rose to the occasion by stemming the flow of (ick) blood and maintaining a cool head for just long enough for the doctor to examine him and pronounce his need for stitches – whereupon I crumpled woozily in a corner, prompting the physician to turn his back on my injured child and summon a nurse to remove me from the room and give me some cold water and a lie-down.  Job well done, Mama – way to stay calm in a crisis!  As we left the examining room, the GP took West aside and told him, with a head nod in my direction, “Next time, don’t bring her.”  For real!

So, if I don’t want to be in the situation of needing to administer some sort of assistance in an emergency, the best course of action must be to just avoid dodgy situations altogether.  Not so?

Yeah, except did I mention that I have four boys??!

Fortunately, I attended a baptism not that long ago in which all of these concerns of mine were put into perspective.  The baby being baptised was the first child of a young pastor and his wife, and the message at the ceremony was given by the baby boy’s grandfather.  He gave the baby’s parents some sage advice, which he in turn been given by his mother as she raised him and his brothers (he was one of three or four boys).

Let them break bones.

Bones heal.

Let them climb too high.

Boys need to be allowed to push their physical limits.

Let them run fast and go far and try things for themselves.

Boys need to grapple with the world around them – they need challenge and adventure and opportunities to be good and brave.

But guard their hearts.

Be vigilant about their virtue.

Guide their decision-making.

Teach them right from wrong.

Be firm about the things that really matter.

Don’t place your anxiety for their physical safety above your concern about things that have eternal consequences.

And so, this natural trepidation I feel about risk – I’ve really got to temper it a bit.  I think I have to zero in on the things that truly matter.  The things that have eternal consequences.

I’m not going to fret about every little thing that might cause my boys minor harm or physical discomfort.

I’m not going to concentrate my prayers on “Keep them safe” and “Don’t let them get hurt.”

I’m not going to stress about ‘what ifs?’ and other unknowns.

Because I’m teaching my boys about what really matters in life.  And I don’t want to be so busy protecting their physical safety that I forget to guard their hearts.