Friday, April 30, 2010

What’s So Funny?

Sex begets parenthood (sorry, kids), so it’s no surprise that parenthood is a lot like sex in another way too: You look ludicrous while you’re doing it. Lust and parenting will both put you in positions you could never have imagined before the madness struck.

You’ll find yourself talking about bowel movements at dinner parties. They won’t even be your own bowel movements.

You’ll find yourself prone on the carpet in the hallway late one night like a sleep-deprived James Bond, trying to look through the crack under a bedroom door to see if you can determine whether your toddler has finally conked out – and see a tiny eye peering back at you.

You’ll find yourself smiling as you remove a melted slice of processed cheese from your DVD player – because at least this time it’s still in the wrapper.

You may once have been accustomed to thinking of yourself as a fairly dignified person. Forget it – that ship has sailed. Parenthood is an exhilarating, confusing ride, and you’re bound to get motion-sick sometimes. Your born-and-raised-in-Asia toddler will squeal delightedly – and loudly – on her first mall trip back home, “Look, Mama! There’s a chocolate man!” Your carsick kindergartener will puke on the Whitman Mission. Your son will get up in the middle of the night and pee in his sister’s tea pot. What can you do but laugh?

Well, you can scream, and I’m sad to say you probably will. You may find yourself issuing ultimatums that make no sense at all, unless you’re caught up in the moment: “All right, Mister! If you make your nose whistle when you breathe one more time, I am going to ground you ‘til you’re thirty, cancel your next five birthday parties and take back your bowling set.” You may also – as I did and do – find yourself grandly announcing absurd New Rules with the somber demeanor of a Grand Vizier:

“Don’t put your feet in the cake.”

“Don’t lick the cat.”

“We don’t save our boogers in envelopes in this house, Young Man.”

The antidote to this insanity is humor. Face it: It’s FUNNY that your kid has been planning to mail his nose-gold collection. And who would have thought during those halcyon college years or the golden blush of young love and early pregnancy that you would one day have to issue an edict against such a thing? There’s a place for honest anger and your kids can respect that – but things will be easier and more comfortable all around if you can laugh at it, too.

Fool around with your kids sometimes. When they are 3 or 4, they will have their favorite books memorized and will know when you depart from the story by even a single word. This puts you in a great position to mess with ‘em: one day, perhaps, Goldilocks will eat the porridge and say, “this porridge is tooo hot. This porridge is tooo cold. This porridge is juuuuuust purple!” (I’ve used this technique on literally hundreds of kids, and the result is always a stunned, “Nooooo!”) Show them (or have your husband or little brother show them) how to do the armpit fart. Teach them the words to the “Batman” version of Jingle Bells:

Jingle bells,
Batman smells,
Robin laid an egg;
The Batmobile lost its wheels
And the Joker got away.

They’re gonna learn it anyway, and the classics are best taught at home.

On the serious side, humor can help you to let go of any lingering delusions of perfection you are harboring; even Mary Poppins was only practically perfect. Remember, this too shall pass – sure, they’re punching each other in the back seat right now, but in a few years they’ll be driving themselves and you won’t have to worry about that anymore. It can also help your kids relax and take their little selves less seriously. They take their cues from you, and if you’re on edge all the time they will be too – without knowing why. A good dose of humor and whimsy will make you all have fun together, building great memories and making them want to spend time with you even when they’re grown and it’s optional.

Besides . . . when they’re teenagers, you can embarrass them.

Revenge is sweet.

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