Humor is a non-negotiable in my life. For most people, in fact, it’s what enables us to pick back up and start over again after disaster; it’s what helps us connect to other people and gain perspective on situations.
But all-out laughter is rare for us as adults. Too rare. Instead, many of us settle for the droll, the whimsical, the ironic. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. What we can’t let go of, though, what we should NEVEr let go of, is an inclination to use humor as a way in to the present.
What does that mean, you ask? Well, a bunch of things. It means not watering down the funny reply in your head just because the conversation you’re in involves a three-year-old. It means allowing responses to situations to be shaped by the funny. It means supporting the humor of those around you, even if that means a half-hour struggle to teach the three-year-old the conventions of the knock-knock joke. (Believe me, this one I’ve tried. It’s hard. The interrupting cow version went particularly well, as he couldn’t grasp at all why the cow kept interrupting him: “NO, Mama! Now I say, interrupting cow who?” as I’m moo-ing at him, falling off my bench with laughter.)
Three examples from our daily lives:
Malachi is now comfortable walking up stairs and delighted that he can routinely reach the banister. But he also likes to have one hand on the banister and the other hand in mine. Until it gets boring. At which point he likes to climb his feet forward up the stairs while he hangs on to the banister with one hand and me with the other, pulling his tiny body into a horizontal position, head dangling downward. “This is interesting,” I said, the first time I saw it. “Not necessarily safe, though. Here, let me interpose my body between you and certain death.”
Malachi is also at the age where he is in love with anything loud. This has some obvious down-sides, but it also means that he is generous with his encouragement to vacuum, mow, sew, or make smoothies. In fact, his sleeping thoughts seem governed by these forces as well; his last muttered words before bed and his first words upon waking are often related to whether or not there’s a need for vacuuming right now. Or if Papa’s all done the lawn mowing. So we’re trying to keep us all positive by actually DOING some vacuuming (for a change — did I say that out loud?), and doing it when he’s around to cheer us on. And I’ve made both boys some fleecy pajama pants in the last few days, egged on by Chi’s delighted cheers. The crowning glory, for Chi, was the day we rented a power washer (for external work, should I stipulate?), with its loud gas-guzzling engine and puffs of smoke. Ever since, in his wistful moments, he muses aloud: “Need-it-a power washer?” (He has somewhat Italian inflection these days: “Eat-it-a apple?” “Read-a-the Ernie.”) We rock him gently, smile widely and say, not right now, baby boy. Not right now.
Len is an inherently funny person, and one of the joys of living with him is seeing his hilarious perspective on the world. I suppose we feed each other that way. Watching an episode of Thomas the Train with Ezra, we were appalled that the female engine, Emily, was assigned the chore of taking the dirty soccer uniforms to the laundry. The episode is about the visit of a soccer team, and the writers are feminist enough to make Emily both a fan and a connoisseur of soccer. As such, she is eager to help out in some substantial way, and the episode tries, I assume, to offer the message that laundry — and therefore women’s lives — is important too. Of course, there’s that pesky complicating factor about, you know, laundry being something that even someone with a penis can do, but hey. It’s a children’s show. It’s for the masses. And we’re just thrilled that Ezra got to learn about the merits of hard-working and virtuous women, whose laundering ability makes it possible for the soccer team (men, I’m sure, though it wasn’t discussed) to triumph. Of course we’re critical, but it was also pretty damn funny to find ourselves engaged in a mutual critique of the patriarchal shenanigans of Ezra’s little train buddies. Woot. Or should I say, peep.
This is all to say: let the laughter flow down. Not just for the health benefits or the capacity for connection, but because it’s the only way to manage the otherwise overwhelming realities of our lives. As I type this, Len is returning from a quick grocery store run with both boys to buy allergy medication. Chi is dawdling; Ezra is hanging off my arm. Len, frustrated with the dawdling, announces that we will just leave Chi outside. Eventually, the boy comes in, and shortly thereafter two things happen: 1. Ezra announces he has peed in his blue jeans which he agrees “is a bummer,” and 2. Chi climbs on top of his rickety workbench near the livingroom window to shout repeatedly “window up! window up!”. It’s 40 degrees outside.